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Covering your face to avoid facial recognition could result in fines in England and France


London’s Metropolitan Police have fined a man £90 (US$118) after he declined to participate in a trial of the force’s public facial recognition system, in an interaction witnessed by Big Brother Watch Director Silkie Carlo, which is sure to ignite further controversy around the biometric technology’s deployment.

The Independent reports that despite signage claiming that “anyone who declines to be scanned will not necessarily be viewed as suspicious,” the individual was followed and confronted by police after he pulled a covering up over his face and walked past the camera with his head down. The person produced identification on request of the police, who Carlo says then became “accusatory and aggressive.”

The individual cursed, and was given a public order fine. A met spokesperson told the Independent that officers are expected to “use their judgment” when deciding whether to confront people who avoid the technology being trialed.

“Officers stopped a man who was seen acting suspiciously in Romford town centre during the deployment of the live facial recognition technology,” a statement said.

“After being stopped the man became aggressive and made threats towards officers. He was issued with a penalty notice for disorder as a result.”

Eight people were arrested during the trial, three due to facial recognition matches. The Independent reports that monitors also saw other people stopped, including one who had pulled up his hood. The deployment was expected to last two days, and be the last of ten, but was cancelled because bad weather was expected to cause a low volume of pedestrian traffic.

The Independent also reports that none of the people it questioned who has passed through a trial zone in December in central London had seen the publicity material supposedly being handed out by police.

France to ban face coverings

Meanwhile in France, where protests have been held continuously, and often violently, since November, a law is expected to pass through parliament next week which would make it illegal for protestors to cover their faces, so that they can be identified with facial recognition, according to Radio New Zealand.

The “anti-casseurs” (anti-hooligan) bill would make covering one’s face during a protest punishable by a €15,000 (US$17,170) fine, but critics say it will be impossible to enforce, and unnecessarily curbs civil liberties.

A spokesperson for French President Emmanuel Macron’s party La Republique En Marche said the bill would protect, rather than restrict freedoms.

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