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Met Police nab 45 people with facial recognition, deployments coming to Lincolnshire 

Met Police nab 45 people with facial recognition, deployments coming to Lincolnshire 

Police in the UK continue to double down on facial recognition use in line with plans to transform their work with the help of technology laid out in 2023. A recent deployment calls into question whether it is being used as intended.

The country’s largest police force, the Metropolitan Police hailed live facial recognition as a “vital tool” for policing last week, after deploying the technology in the London town of Croydon. As part of a months-long operation, local police deployed two vans in the area equipped with live facial recognition, leading to 45 arrests, The Independent reports.

Among those arrested in Croydon are over a dozen suspects who were identified during just two days in January. The police operation, which took place on January 20th and 23rd, nabbed several people for failing to appear in court for crimes such as theft, burglary, criminal damage and drug-related offenses.

Chief Superintendent Andy Brittain, in charge of Croydon, highlighted the system’s accuracy, noting that the false-positive identification rate had so far outperformed the 1 in 6,000 rates that the Met Police has set as their goal.

“Far more accurate, actually, than the scientific advice says,” says Brittain.

Elsewhere in London, the Met Police used retrospective facial recognition to hunt down a man who stabbed a bus driver in June 2023. The bus driver was stabbed in the back while driving his route in east London, puncturing his lung and tearing his heart.

The assailant Bradley Peek fled the scene but was located within hours using CCTV footage, according to The Standard.

A bus driver suffered a punctured lung and a tear to the heart after being stabbed in the back while driving his route in east London. Peek was charged with grievous bodily harm with intent and sentenced to more than five years in prison.

Police use of facial recognition, however, has been controversial, with civil rights groups such as Big Brother Watch, Liberty and Amnesty International voicing criticism and some lawmakers taking action to spur regulation of its deployment.

In an opinion piece for Biometric Update, Birmingham Law School fellow Karen Yeung said that the UK is an “outlier amongst democratic states” in introducing live facial recognition in public spaces. The deployments, however, have been conducted without clear legislation or democratic debate.

“None of this has taken place and it is long overdue,” she says. Further, its use appears to clash with the Met Police’s stated intention to only include those wanted for “serious crimes” in watchlists.

The UK police claim that live facial recognition is not “a ubiquitous tool” that tracks every person’s movement but is carefully deployed to “help locate a limited number of people.”

Chief Superintendent Brittain noted that the biometric data of people who are not on the Met Police watchlist are deleted and that the technology enjoys support from the community. Croydon’s live facial recognition vans are also clearly marked warning that the technology is in use.

Meanwhile, other policing units are increasing their reliance on the technology.

Lincolnshire police and crime commissioner Marc Jones has called for increasing the use of facial recognition to identify suspects and has secured the money to do it. Last week, the city approved the police proposal to increase the budget to invest in new technologies, according to the BBC.

Liz Rogers, detective chief superintendent and head of crime at Lincolnshire Police, said that the force is currently facial recognition through the Police National Database in order to identify unknown suspects that have been captured in images or on CCTV.

“We are exploring the potential to utilize facial recognition across other aspects of operational policing. This is in the early stages of development,” she says.

Last week, Northumbria University received funding to investigate the ethics of police deployment of AI and emerging technologies.

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