London facial recognition got a tryout on London over the holidays, where police conducted another test of the biometric authentication technology. Only partial results have been publically announced but the test — just one among other similar recent law enforcement efforts — signal ongoing and rising interest in identifying people via the modality.
The UK test scanned the faces of Christmas shoppers in London, which resulted in four arrests, including two described as ‘proactive’
The test was “used to scan the faces of Christmas shoppers in London, with police hoping to spot wanted criminals,” according to a report from The Verge. This was the seventh such test conducted by the Metropolitan Police, which protects London. In a statement, the department said the effort, which took place on Dec. 17 and Dec. 18, resulted in four arrests. Two of the people arrested were wanted by police, while the other two were what the department called “proactive arrests” — one for allegedly threatening to commit rape and the other for an alleged drug offense.
London facial recognition evaluation underway
More tests are scheduled. “We have committed to ten trials during the coming months,” said Commander Ivan Balhatchet, the department’s strategic lead for live facial recognition. “We are now coming to the end of our trials when a full evaluation will be completed.”
The tests generally work like this, according to the report from The Verge: “Cameras are fixed to lampposts or deployed on vans, and use software developed by Japanese firm NEC to measure the structure of passing faces. This scan is then compared to a database of police mug shots.” Software prompts officers to take a closer look at certain faces.
Not everyone is on board with the technology or the tests, and this goes beyond expected criticisms rooted in civil rights concerns. According to Freedom of Information requests filed by opponents of police use of the technology, it misidentifies people up to 98 percent of the time when used in settings similar to that latest test in London.
Still, biometric proponents stress that these systems are not intended to be used as standalone decision-making tools. They are designed to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, identifying a small number of potential suspects worthy of further investigated by a human evaluator. With this in mind, a 98% misidentification rate cited by opponents could actually be a very strong success rate if the system identified 100 targets from thousands of passersby and two were subsequently identified as wanted criminals by police evaluators.