Police in the U.K. used real-time facial recognition technology in a public place to arrest a man this week. It’s the first time police in the country have used the automated this way, and will doubtless raise privacy concerns.
Roving Facial Recognition Vans
A video on the WalesOnline site shows a white police van marked with “Facial Recognition Fitted” driving slowly through a shopping district in Cardiff. On its roof are cameras similar in appearance to those on Google’s StreetView cars.
The news story did not mention what the man was arrested for. However it said police will use the technology to monitor individuals on police watch lists. These include terrorists, football hooligans and, oddly enough, football ticket scalpers.
Police tested the system on massive crowds last week when the Welsh capital hosted the 2017 UEFA Champions League final. Police called it the “perfect testing ground”.
Welsh police now have funding for another facial recognition proof-of-concept trial that will “cross reference CCTV images and other pictures with their database of 500,000 custody images.”
They will continue to test the systems in a variety of locations around the city over the coming months.
UK Has One CCTV Camera for Every 11 People
The U.K. already has one of the highest numbers of public CCTV cameras in the world. Security expert Graham Cluley wrote that there are already 6 million cameras — or one for every 11 people.
Cluley described the arrest via automated facial recognition technology as “decidedly creepy”. But if useful and effective at picking wanted individuals out of crowds, it’s guaranteed we’ll soon see these systems deployed almost everywhere.
Japan’s NEC developed the NeoFace Watch system Welsh police are using. NEC markets the product as useful in workplaces to identify staff, and also at banks, hotels, restaurants, and borders.
If You’re Not Doing Anything Wrong…
Supporters are bound to drag out the old line “if you’re not doing anything wrong you have nothing to worry about”. But in a country like the U.K., where police repeatedly warn (and often arrest) citizens for Twitter posts, the definition of “doing wrong” can be broad.
— Greater Glasgow Police (@GreaterGlasgPol) April 1, 2016
For those concerned at the thought of automated software recording everywhere they go, the focus will turn to facial recognition-fooling techniques.
Our future may resemble either a William Gibson or a George Orwell novel — or more likely, a mixture of both.
Will automated facial recognition make us more safe, or enslave us? Let’s hear your thoughts.
Images via WalesOnline, NEC