UK Home Secretary doubles down on cops’ deeply flawed facial recognition trials

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As if further indication was needed of Britain’s slide into a surveillance state, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has backed highly flawed police trials of facial recognition cameras.

Speaking at the launch of tools to be used to combat online child abuse, he said it was right for forces to “be on top of the latest technology”.

“I back the police in looking at technology and trialling it,” he told the BBC. Javid added that “different types of facial recognition technology is being trialled especially by the Met at the moment and I think it’s right they look at that,”

“If they want to take it further it’s also right that they come to government, we look at it carefully and we set out through Parliament how that can work.”

However, a report by researchers at the University of Essex into the Met’s facial recognition trials last week found that just eight correct matches were made out of 42 suggested.

The researchers were granted unprecedented access to the final six tests and concluded that not only is the technology highly inaccurate but its deployment is likely to be found “unlawful” if challenged in court.

An individual in Cardiff has already mounted a legal challenge to the use of facial recognition tech in public areas by South Wales Police – this was the first such case to be launched in the UK.

Javid’s comments come hot on the heels of remarks by the head of London’s Metropolitan Police union that the authoritarian Chinese government’s use of facial recognition was “spot on”.

Speaking on the BBC Essex Breakfast Show, Ken Marsh said: “Although China is a very intrusive country and I don’t agree with a lot of what they do, they’ve got it absolutely correct. They’re recognising individuals per second and they’ve got it spot on.”

The Information Commissioner, the UK’s data watchdog, has also raised concerns about the technology, saying forces have to demonstrate that it is effective and less intrusive alternatives are not available.

Javid was speaking at the launch of new tools costing £1.7m designed to counter online child abuse.

They include a fast-forensic tool to analyse seized devices and find images already known to law enforcement; an image categorisation algorithm to assist officers to identify and categorise the severity of illegal imagery; and a capability to detect images with matching scenes to help identify children in indecent images in order to safeguard victims.

Javid said: “This game-changing tech will help us do this and will be vital in the fight against online child abusers.” ®

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