The Metropolitan Police Service has announced it is going begin using the controversial live facial recognition (LFR) technology.
It said that LFR from digital tech company NEC will be deployed to specific locations in London, determined by police intelligence, as part of the effort tackle serious crime.
Each deployment will involve the use of a bespoke watch list made up of images of wanted individuals, predominantly people wanted for serious and violent offences.
Cameras will be focused on a small, targeted area to scan passers-by and – apparently in an effort to address civil liberties concerns – will be clearly signposted with officers handing out leaflets about the activity.
The technology will not be linked to any other imaging system.
Duty to use tech
Assistant Commission Nick Ephgrave said: “As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London. Independent research has shown that the public support us in this regard. Prior to deployment we will be engaging with our partners and communities at a local level.
“We are using a tried-and-tested technology and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point. Similar technology is already widely used across the UK, in the private sector. Ours has been trialled by our technology teams for use in an operational policing environment.
“Every day, our police officers are briefed about suspects they should look out for; LFR improves the effectiveness of this tactic.
“Similarly if it can help locate missing children or vulnerable adults swiftly, and keep them from harm and exploitation, then we have a duty to deploy the technology to do this.”
The move prompted a cautionary response the Biometrics Commissioner Paul Wiles. He described it as "step change" in the use of LFR, moving from trial to operational use, and said it would be difficult to comment on any deployment until the details are available.
The use of LFR in policing has come under criticism from civil liberties groups. South Wales Police was subject to a legal challenge last year from Liberty, which it successfully defended, and the Met Police has been criticised over pilots it ran at events including the Notting Hill Carnival.
Wiles pointed out that the court case did not necessarily provide a mandate for a Met Police deployment as it was specific to the use in South Wales; and pointed out that the case is being appealed.
"The Metropolitan Police will need to pay attention to those circumstances (relevant to the Human Rights Act and data protection legislation) to which the court drew attention," he said.
In addition, the Information Commissioner’s Office has called for a statutory code for its use by the police. But the Home Office has declared its support for trials, effectively giving the green light for the Met Police to go ahead.
Image from Metropolitan Police
Amended on 27 January to take in biometrics commissioner's statement