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Police facial recognition ruling appealed in Wales, ban delayed in Portland, trial halt requested in Macau



Pushback against facial recognition use by police sits at various stages in countries around the world this week.

A Welsh man is appealing a ruling from the Cardiff high court that real-time facial recognition trials by the South Wales Police are legal, despite interfering with subjects’ privacy rights, BBC News reports.

Former local councillor Ed Bridges lost the recent court decision, but was granted leave to appeal, with Lord Justice Singh saying an appeal would have a “real prospect of success” given the challenge “raises such issues of public importance and issues which potentially affect large numbers of people.” The court also noted that the inclusion of human review in the process in an important safeguard.

The automatic facial recognition (AFR) system four South Wales Police vans have been equipped with has been deployed at 39 events over 71 days, and resulted in 60 arrests so far.

South Wales Police Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis says false positives from AFR trials have fallen from a laughable 92 percent during a 2017 deployment to single digits or none at all in recent deployments. Changes have included a better understanding of crowd dynamics, camera positioning, and how many faces per frame to analyze.

“Since the Champions League we have come a long way. The algorithm that we used then is different, it’s improved and we’re just about to look at another one,” Lewis says. “More importantly, our understanding of how the system is deployed – how we place the van, the camera sensitivity, the processing power of the computer – have all improved. That deployment was our first in mass crowds and that was a huge learning curve for us.”

Figures published by the police force for 25 events over the past two years show a false positive rate of 51 percent (70 out of 137 alerts).

The UK government is still working through its legal and ethical responsibilities around facial recognition and other biometrics.

Portland delays decision

The City Council of Portland, Maine, has delayed its decision on a proposed ban on use of facial recognition by local agencies, with several councilors telling the Press Herald that they prefer to refer the proposal to a committee after Mayor-elect Kate Snyder is sworn in and the council holds its goal-setting session.

The ban was proposed earlier this year by Councilor Pious Ali, who claims facial recognition often misidentifies women, people of color and children, that it is very invasive and violates free speech and privacy rights.

As a woman of color, City Councillor Jill Duson admits to being “very afraid” of facial recognition, but she believes it should be studied before a ban is considered.

“I’m very afraid of this technology, but despite that, I think our city has shown an ability to look at these policies and tailor them to what makes sense for our city,” Duson says.

A professor of criminology at the University of Southern Maine, meanwhile, told a public hearing that that private cameras could be networked to track people’s movements, making facial recognition at risk of “astronomical” abuse. No mention is made in the article of the professor’s proposed remedy for the blatant human rights violation implied by the exact same setup in the absence of facial recognition technology. A handful of others spoke during the hearing, with only one, an attorney representing Microsoft, speaking against a ban.

The issue will be revisited on January 6.

Macau civil society group demands halt to trial plan

Civil society group the New Macau Association (ANM) demanded that local police abandon a plan to trial facial recognition technology on its network of CCTV cameras during a recent press conference, Macau Daily Times writes.

ANM member and layer Sulu Sou said the group and members of the public have been requesting information from the government on the legal grounds for the trial, as well as the implementation plan and public oversight mechanism. The group says the Macau’s current CCTV surveillance law does not include clear rules for facial recognition. Assurances from police that they will consult with Macau’s data protection office (GPDP) do not resolve the public’s concerns, according to Sou.

“Without adequate legal protection and monitoring mechanisms, the privacy rights of all Macau citizens will be placed in a dangerous situation,” he says.

According to the ANM, security authorities often decline to be transparent about their use of CCTV surveillance, making it impossible for the GPDP to monitor whether operations are abusive or illegal.

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