Researchers claim it is “highly possible” the Metropolitan Police’s use of facial recognition technology is unlawful.
Facial recognition technology being used by police forces in Britain – including London’s Metropolitan Police Service – gets identities wrong 81% of the time, a new report has revealed.
Research by the University of Essex Human Rights Centre has identified “significant flaws” with the way live facial recognition (LFR) technology was trialled by the Metropolitan Police .
LFR technology maps faces in a crowd then compares results with a “watchlist” of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest.
In order to compile the report , researchers were granted unprecedented access to the final six of the ten trials run by the Metropolitan Police between June 2018 and February 2019.
Across the six trials that were evaluated, the LFR technology made a total of 42 matches.
16 of the 42 computer-generated matches were judged to be “non-credible” – that is, officers did not believe the image recorded by the LFR technology matched the image on the watchlist.
The remaining 26 of these matches were considered by the Metropolitan Police to be sufficiently credible to stop individuals and perform an identity check.
However, 14 were verified as incorrect matches following an identity check, and four of the attempted interventions were unsuccessful, as individuals were lost in the crowd.
As a result, the reports authors can only say with absolute certainty that face recognition matches were correct on eight of the 42 occasions (19%).
The report criticised the accuracy of the watchlist, highlighting that information was often not current, meaning people were stopped despite the fact their case had already been addressed.
It also states that LFR was approached in a manner similar to traditional CCTV, which fails to take into account factors such as the intrusive nature of LFR, and the use of biometric processing.
The mixing of trials with operational deployments also raises a number of issues regarding consent, public legitimacy and trust, according to the report.
The authors conclude that it is “highly possible” the Metropolitan Police’s use of LFR to-date would be held unlawful if challenged in court.
“This report raises significant concerns regarding the human rights law compliance of the trials,” said Dr Daragh Murray, one of the report’s authors.
“The legal basis for the trials was unclear and is unlikely to satisfy the ‘in accordance with the law’ test established by human rights law.
“It does not appear that an effective effort was made to identify human rights harms or to establish the necessity of LFR.
“Ultimately, the impression is that human rights compliance was not built into the Metropolitan Police’s systems from the outset, and was not an integral part of the process.”
In light of their findings, the authors are calling for all live trials of LFR to be ceased until these concerns are addressed.
They note that it is essential that human rights compliance is ensured before deployment, and that there be an appropriate level of public scrutiny and debate on a national level.
After reviewing the report, the Metropolitan Police has chosen not to exercise its right of reply.
The news comes as another police force is facing a legal challenge over its use of facial recognition surveillance .
Cardiff resident Ed Bridges is bringing the case against South Wales Police, after it used LFR technology to identify demonstrators at a peaceful anti-arms protest in 2018, which he attended.
Bridges, represented by campaign group Liberty, argues that the police’s use of this technology is unlawful, as it violates the human rights to privacy, freedom of assembly, and freedom from discrimination.
“Having police indiscriminately scanning us all as we go about our daily lives makes our privacy rights meaningless,” said Bridges, who crowdfunded the case .
“There’s no law allowing facial recognition. Parliament hasn’t debated it. The public hasn’t been consulted.
“There’s not even any guidance on how to deploy it, and no independent oversight to make sure its use is appropriate and our rights are protected.”