The head of London’s Metropolitan Police has fiercely defended her force’s use of live facial recognition (LFR) technology, arguing that privacy rights have changed in an age of social media and that some critics are “highly ill-informed.”
Speaking at think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), Met Police commissioner, Cressida Dick, argued that it was right for police to try and utilize technology and data more effectively than the criminal community.
She claimed that LFR is used in London in a “proportionate, limited way” which doesn’t store the public’s biometric data, and that only people wanted for serious crimes are placed on the watchlists used by such systems.
“It is not for me and the police to decide where the boundary lies between security and privacy, it is right for the police to contribute to the debate, but speaking as a member of public, I will be frank,” she continued.
“In an age of Twitter and Instagram and Facebook, concern about my image and that of my fellow law-abiding citizens passing through LFR and not being stored, feels much, much smaller than my and the public’s vital expectation to be kept safe from a knife through the chest.”
However, privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last November claimed it had “serious concerns” about how UK police were using LFR in practice, and that it is working on a binding code of practice related to its use in public places.
A government report, ironically issued by RUSI last September, warned that machine learning algorithms like the sort used in LFR could be amplifying racial and other human biases in policing.
It argued that “systematic investigation of claimed benefits and drawbacks is required before moving ahead with full-scale deployment of new technology.”
However, Dick confidently claimed the Met’s LFR tech was not affected.
“We know there are some cheap technologies that do have bias, but as I have said, ours doesn’t,” she said. “Currently, the only bias in it, is that is shows it is slightly harder to identify a wanted woman than a wanted man.”
Big Brother Watch released a report in 2018 claiming that LFR systems being used by the Met are 98-100% inaccurate.
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