Stakeholders split on London police use of public facial recognition as study shows 4 in 5 false positives

The Chair of the Metropolitan Police staff association Ken March has called China’s use of public surveillance with biometric facial recognition “absolutely correct” and called for it to deployed in London around the clock, Sky News reports.

Marsh told a radio program that facial recognition could potentially have been used to prevent the 2017 London Bridge terrorist attack, when police lost track of the perpetrators prior to their attack.

“Although China is a very intrusive country and I don’t agree with a lot of what they do,” Marsh said on BBC Radio Essex’s breakfast show, “[on facial recognition] they’ve got it absolutely correct. They’re recognising individuals… they’ve got it spot on.”

MP David Davis told Sky News that Marsh had accepted Chinese propaganda. “Mr. Marsh needs to check his facts before he tries to write policy. Independent analysis showed facial recognition was wrong four out of five times.”

When asked about an independent report that found 81 percent of flagged suspects were false matches, Marsh claimed the figure was absurd, and that he had not heard it. He also said that if it is true, it would show the technology is not fit for the use case, and should be scrapped. The Metropolitan Police use a completely different method to arrive at an error rate of roughly one in 1,000.

The independent report was carried out by the University of Essex was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, and examined six live trials. If found that people were regularly misidentified and then wrongly stopped. Eight people wanted by police, including some wanted for violent crimes, were identified by facial biometrics in the six trials, out of 42 flagged and 22 stopped.

“We are extremely disappointed with the negative and unbalanced tone of this report… We have a legal basis for this pilot period and have taken legal advice throughout,” Metropolitan Police Deputy Assistant Commissioner said, according to Sky News. “We believe the public would absolutely expect us to try innovative methods of crime fighting in order to make London safer.”

Davis responded to the study by calling for a halt to the trials.

“All experiments like this should now be suspended until we have a proper chance to debate this and establish some laws and regulations,” he told the Guardian. “Remember what these rights are: freedom of association and freedom to protest; rights which we have assumed for centuries which shouldn’t be intruded upon without a good reason.”

Jason Tooley, board member of techUK and Chief Revenue Officer at Veridium, told Biometric Update in an email that police could further benefit from biometric by taking a more holistic and open approach to the technology. He suggests that the problem is more one of public perception and education than accuracy rate.

“It is imperative for police forces to take a strategic approach as they trial biometric technologies, and not solely focus on a single biometric approach,” Tooley writes. “This open multifactor approach will strengthen evidence and decrease the risk of wrongful arrests. This should alleviate human rights concerns, but the public need to be reassured that the technology is assisting in crime solving and not just merely being used as surveillance.”

“With the rapid rate of innovation in the field, an open biometric strategy that delivers the ability for the police to use the right biometric techniques for the right requirements will accelerate the benefits associated with digital policing and achieve public acceptance by linking the strategy to ease of adoption. Instead of only using facial recognition perhaps for a single reason, the police should ensure they have strategically assessed which is the right biometric technique, for the right use case, based on the scenario.”

He also suggests that verification use cases such as for smartphone unlocking have created an unrealistic expectation of the performance of public-facing systems.

Documents confirm state collaboration on facial recognition images

Internal documents and emails from the federal investigators with the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement show they have made thousands of requests to make biometric searches of state department of motor vehicle databases with facial recognition technology, The Washington Post reports.

The documents were revealed after public records requests by researchers at Georgetown Law, and show what the Post calls “daily working relationships” between federal agents and state DMV officials. The Government Accountability Office reported last month that the FBI has conducted more than 390,000 facial recognition searches between federal and state databases.

Federal agencies were heavily criticized for their use of state records in House Committee hearings last month.

“Law enforcement’s access of state databases,” and in particular DMV databases, is “often done in the shadows with no consent,” Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), who chairs the House Oversight Committee, told the Post.

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