Sadiq Khan and the Metropolitan Police have been criticised by two candidates seeking to replace Khan as London Mayor over the Met’s decision to make use of facial recognition cameras as a means of identifying people wanted in connection with violent and other serious crimes.
Describing the technology as “hopelessly inaccurate”, Liberal Democrat Siobhan Benita said “it is unacceptable for a new form of mass surveillance like this to be rolled out onto London’s streets with proper consultation, regulation or oversight,” while the Green Party’s Siân Berry condemned what she called “yet another deeply concerning infringement of our basic civil liberties” when studies had found “this intrusive technology was not effective”.
The Met announced the move yesterday, saying each camera will cover a “small targeted area” an scan passers-by at locations “where intelligence suggests we are most likely to locate serious offenders”. The cameras will operate for five or six hours at a time and be signposted, with officers distributing explanatory leaflets. The move follows trials of the system in locations including the West End and the Westfield shopping centre in Stratford.
The Met says the technology is “not taking over from traditional policing” and will merely give officers a “prompt” that someone they are looking for might have been spotted. Assistant Met commissioner Nick Ephgrave said, “I believe we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London,” and also stressed “I have to be sure that we have the right safeguards and transparency in place to ensure that we protect people’s privacy and human rights”.
The BBC has reported the Met saying that trails of the technology so far suggest that 70 per cent of wanted suspects would be correctly identified while false alerts were rare, but a review of the results by researchers based at the University of Essex concluded that only eight out of 42 matches could be relied on with complete confidence, that the trials were inadequately planned and that use of the technology could very well be found unlawful. It also found that the criteria for including people on the watchlist of suspects were “not clearly defined”.
Berry highlighted the researchers’ reservations and also said that in her role as a London Assembly Member she had received assurances from the Met commissioner and the deputy mayoral for policing and crime that the technology “would not be deployed unless ethical and legal barriers could be overcome”.
Benita drew attention to arguments that the technology “is biased against women and ethnic minorities” and said “Liberal Democrats do not want London to become a city where innocent people feel as though their every movement is being watched”.
In 2018, the information commissioner gave the Met six months to get its Gang Matrix database into line with data protection rules after an investigation, prompted by Amnesty International with Berry’s support, found it was “unclear and inconsistently applied” and lacked “effective central governance”. The Mayor’s office for policing and crime, which oversees the Met, later called on the Met to “comprehensively overhaul” the matrix.
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