Campaign groups demand new London police boss end facial recognition use on first day in job
Fourteen campaign groups including Big Brother Watch, Liberty and Black Lives Matter wrote an open letter to new London Metropolitan Police Service Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley on his first day in the job to demand he end the use of facial recognition technologies, reports the Press Association.
The groups claim that 87 percent of the alerts generated by the Met’s systems are misidentifications, dating back to 2016 according to the Big Brother Watch site, such as the French exchange student who had only been in the country for a few days and a 14-year-old Black schoolboy in uniform, both picked out in live facial recognition trials at the busy Oxford Circus in central London.
The Met’s figures show that 36 percent of all biometric alerts have been non-matches across its eight most recent trials since February 2020. The Met claims that the proportion of all people who pass the cameras – up to 36,000 in a trial – and who trigger a false alert is between zero and 0.08 percent.
“During observations at deployments, Big Brother Watch has witnessed multiple false positive matches, which have led to innocent individuals being forced to prove their identity to police officers,” states the letter.
“If the use of this technology becomes more widespread, these incidents will become commonplace, resulting in further injustices and increased public mistrust of the Met.”
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said, “If the new Commissioner is serious about fighting crime effectively while addressing discrimination in policing, he cannot endorse the use of a technology with an 87 percent failure rate, that pointlessly drains police resources, and is well known to have issues with racist and sexist misidentifications, many of which we’ve witnessed.”
The timing of the letter is no doubt timed for impact with the new chief’s first day, yet Commissioner Rowley, beginning the role on 12 September, has one of the largest policing tasks in history to manage with the state funeral for Queen Elizabeth II on 19 September. Hundreds of thousands or even millions of people are expected to travel to the capital, with special night trains laid on.
Further protests from anti-monarchists are expected and the shooting dead by Met police of unarmed Black man Chris Kaba has led to protests outside the Met’s headquarters in recent days. The officer who fired the fatal shot has been suspended and a homicide investigation begun. Sir Mark’s predecessor, Dame Cressida Dick, was ousted from her role following a series of policing scandals.
The Met could be using all the tools in its arsenal over the coming week. It has been conducting live facial recognition trials again in the capital, even paying some people to go past the cameras set up in busy central areas.