London police expect to run more facial recognition trials this year

London Metropolitan Police are planning to run more trials of automated facial recognition technology this year, though are not expecting to make many arrests based on it, according to testimony by Commissioner Cressida Dick to the London Assembly reported by The Register.

Dick said the force has used the technology four times so far this year, including most recently at Stratford in late June, and though she acknowledged the trials have had limited success so far, she said their continuation is necessary for the police to complete their due diligence.

“If there’s a technology that we can use lawfully – which we can, this is one – and is available, which we are trialling with massive safeguards… [and there is] the notion that that technology might be used in limited circumstances to identify against a small list of wanted offenders for serious violence, [then] I think the public would expect us to be thinking about how we can use that technology, seeing if it’s effective or efficient for us. And that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

The commissioner described facial recognition as a “tool” and a “tactic,” but also said, “I’m not expecting it to result in lots of arrests.” She also said that the force’s lawyers scrutinized the trials to make sure they were being conducted legally, though they are already facing a legal challenge from a resident of Wales, and Big Brother Watch has also vowed to launch a legal challenge if the trials continue.

The London Policing Ethics Panel is also reviewing the facial recognition trials which are expected to be published soon.

She said that there are robust checks and balances in place to ensure the trials are conducted legally and ethically. “A commander authorises every deployment, he runs through a set of questions very like any intrusive activities under the Regulations of Investigatory Powers Act.” She also pointed out that suggested matches produced by the automated system are assessed manually.

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