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Facial recognition will ‘transform investigative work,’ says UK’s top cop

Facial recognition will ‘transform investigative work,’ says UK’s top cop

United Kingdom’s most senior police officer believes that facial recognition will transform investigative work the same way DNA testing did 30 years ago.

The London Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley hailed the technology while speaking at an event marking his first year in office, The Guardian reports.

“We’ve also shown recently that live facial recognition is massively effective at picking out wanted offenders from crowds of people,” says Rowley. “The next step is more exciting: retroactively using facial recognition to identify unknown suspects from CCTV images is showing immense potential.”

The Metropolitan Police and the South Wales Police have been using live facial recognition software in trials over the past five years, including public events such as the coronation of King Charles. The UK’s policing minister, Chris Philp, has been pushing for facial recognition use in all police forces nationally.

During his address to the Policy Exchange think-tank, Rowely indicated that using new technologies, such as facial recognition, was necessary due to cuts in police funding and the greater complexity of crimes. Compared to a decade ago, the police have 28 percent less to spend on policing in real terms per capita, he noted.

“The results that we’re getting are beyond what I expected and I think are going to transform investigative work, potentially, in the way that DNA transformed investigative work 30 years ago,” he says.

Rowley’s remarks come amid ongoing criticism against the technology among civil rights groups. Last year, when the Met Police hired Rowley for its top spot, fourteen campaign groups wrote an open letter highlighting that 87 percent of the alerts generated by the Met Police facial recognition systems since 2016 were misidentifications, according to their own figures. The commissioner’s latest comments have been met with similar warnings from rights organizations.

“It can absolutely be as intrusive as DNA, which is why it’s so concerning that the Met is using it to scan hundreds of thousands of innocent Londoners, often with dangerously inaccurate results,” says Silkie Carlo, director of advocacy group Big Brother Watch.

Warnings have also been coming from official watchdogs. In March, Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner (OBSCC) Fraser Sampson highlighted that many police forces in the UK are falling short of the regulatory and ethical obligations of deploying facial recognition.

Despite criticism, the police announced this month a new US$752,000 police operation to match CCTV images of shoplifters with those in a national police database. The plan, named Project Pegaus, is financed by 10 large supermarkets and retailers in the UK.

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