Facial Recognition Cameras Coming to London

Privacy advocates are alarmed

Surveillance camera
A new program is set to situate facial recognition cameras across London.
Paul Vlaar/Creative Commons
By Tobias Carroll / January 25, 2020 1:25 pm

Whether you think it’s a brilliant security measure or an alarming violation of privacy, facial recognition technology is booming right now. The latest controversy surrounding its use comes from London, with the announcement that facial recognition cameras will be permanently situated around the city.

The Metropolitan Police announced the program on Friday, following a trial stage.

At a deployment, cameras will be focused on a small, targeted area to scan passers-by. The cameras will be clearly signposted and officers deployed to the operation will hand out leaflets about the activity. The technology, which is a standalone system, is not linked to any other imaging system, such as CCTV, body worn video or ANPR.

As James Vincent writes at The Verge, this decision has drawn controversy from some circles. “Privacy advocates described the deployment of the technology as an attack on civil liberties,” Vincent writes.

In a 2019 article in Time, Silkie Carlo of the nonprofit Big Brother Watch warned against the adoption of such technology. “There are over 6 million surveillance cameras in the U.K. – more per citizen than any other country in the world, except China,” Carlo wrote. “In the U.K., biometric photos are taken and stored of people whose faces match with criminals – even if the match is incorrect.”

Not surprisingly, the group has also weighed in on the current announcement from the Metropolitan Police.

Law enforcement is only one of several entities making use of facial recognition technology, which is likely to have a significant influence on society moving forward. Will it increase safety, or create a more authoritarian state? The future is uncertain — but people have their eyes on it, in more than one way.

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