China is far and away the world leader when it comes to deploying facial recognition technology to maintain law and order (and, of course, the Communist Party’s iron grip on the levers of power). But it looks like the UK is making some important strides in that direction.
According to the BBC, anybody traveling through Central London this week could have their face scanned by the Metropolitan Police Department as part of a public trial exploring the efficacy of using this technology for law enforcement purposes. To try and maintain ‘transparency’, police said they would ask permission from passers-by before scanning. And anybody who refuses “will not be treated as suspicious” which sounds so…reassuring.
The tests will be held near Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square on Monday and Tuesday.
Unsurprisingly, pro-privacy groups in the UK aren’t thrilled about the Met’s plans: One group called Big Brother Watch has decried facial recognition technology as “authoritarian, dangerous and lawless.”
“Monitoring innocent people in public is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and assembly,” the group said.
Police hope the technology can identify criminal suspects.
Lest anybody fret that they are being surreptitiously recorded, identified and tagged, the BBC said clearly marked and uniformed officers would distribute informational pamphlets to “educate” the public about the trial.
The BBC has also published a handy infographic:
The UK’s information watchdog started exploring the use of facial recognition technology by police forces in November, and the study in some of London’s most-trafficked areas is the next logical step toward implementing it. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said the technology could bring “significant public safety benefits.” Though she also conceded that it could be “particularly intrusive” and represented a “real step toward change in the way law-abiding people are monitored.”
Of course, the UK government isn’t the only organization to make headlines lately over its controversial use of facial-scanning technology: Taylor Swift recently sparked a controversy after it came out that her team had used facial recognition technology to scan the audience at a recent performance for known Swift stalkers (Swalkers?).
Circling back to the UK, we can’t but wonder: If the study will be so “non-intrusive”, will police let any criminal suspects identified in the study slide?