Police deploying facial recognition at London’s Notting Hill Carnival

The UK’s Metropolitan Police is planning to use facial recognition software in a new pilot program aimed at identifying suspected troublemakers among attendees at the Notting Hill carnival, according to a report by The Guardian.

The Notting Hill Carnival is an annual event that takes place in London over two days in August. It attracts around one million people annually, making it one of the world’s largest street festivals.

Using the facial recognition system, police will match faces in the crowd against databases containing images of people previously arrested or under bail conditions to prevent troublemakers from attending the event.

However, civil liberties groups said the use of real-time biometric tracking is unsupported by the law and that the police’s planned pilot is institutionally racist because it targets the UK’s annual African-Caribbean two-day event.

“The technology involves the use of overt cameras which scan the faces of those passing by and flag up potential matches against a database of custody images,” the Metropolitan Police said in its statement regarding the pilot. “The database will be populated with images of individuals who are forbidden from attending carnival, as well as individuals wanted by police.”

The Metropolitan Police previously tested the system last year, but was unable to identify any suspects. The police said that it will only retain images that come up as a match with a wanted offender.

As facial recognition technology improves and costs decline, it will likely pit the rights of the individual and power held by the state to uphold public safety against one another.

“This intrusive biometric surveillance has no place at the Notting Hill carnival,” Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty, said. “There is no basis in law for facial recognition, no transparency around its use and we’ve had no public or parliamentary debate about whether this technology could ever be lawful in a democracy.”

The Metropolitan Police said it had consulted on the technology with the information commissioner and privacy group Big Brother Watch, and that once the trial is over it will be analyzing the results and holding a public consultation.

However, Big Brother Watch said it only had one consultation meeting with police last summer and haven’t spoken to them since. The group added that it was unaware that the technology was to be trialed again this year.

Earlier this year, the UK home secretary ordered UK police agencies to delete on request millions of images of innocent people illegally stored on a national police database.

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