Met to test facial recognition at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival

Technology ‘promising’, says the Biometrics Commissioner – but there’s still a long way to go before it’s in the front-line

Posted 24 August 2017 at 8:45am by

London’s Met Police plan to put biometrics to a pretty stiff test this weekend – in the context of the busy Notting Hill Carnival.

And in doing so, says Paul Wiles, Biometrics Commissioner, the Force is confirming technology has the potential to be a really useful crime fighting tool, but is not ready yet, needing more testing and in-depth evaluation if it is going to be effective.

Facial recognition technology also needs  to be handled “carefully” by the authorities if it is going to be trusted by the public, adds the Commissioner in a new blog post today.

Carnival has been deliberately chosen for this big trial, as tests of facial matching for spotting individuals in large crowds have so far had very poor success.

Plus, while law enforcement in the UK already hold over 20 million facial images in both the Police National Database and in separate force systems, there is as yet no single, shared policing system for storing and searching police held images – nor an evaluation of biometric accuracy and usefulness, he adds.

As a result, “Police forces need to work together to agree on a single facial recognition system that has been proved to work in the field and government needs to create a legislative framework for its use, with independent oversight to provide public assurance, as it has done for DNA and fingerprints,” Wiles states.

British police are conducting a number of trials to see if facial searching and matching technology can be employed effectively in crowded public places, he adds, though the bulk of this type of research has so far been in the US.

In any case, such experiments on this side of the Pond “should be properly designed and evaluated, preferably involving external experts, and the results published”, Wiles demands.

Chief Constables should also evaluate their use of facial images generally in order to demonstrate that they have a useful and cost-effective purpose, based on adequate matching quality, as they also need to explain how they will deal with potential false matches.

Police, including the Met, also need  to be sensitive to the fact that the use of facial images, especially in public places, is “very intrusive of individual freedom, especially because images can be captured without the subject being aware”.

The public benefit of the use of such an intrusive technology must outweigh the interference in individual privacy, he adds.

Wiles concludes by saying that it’s his view that it should Parliament, through informed debate and legislation, who should be the best final judge of the next best steps with facial recognition – shadowing the way the law of the land similarly looks after DNA and fingerprint policy.