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FACIAL RECOGNITION: UK Police Starting to Make Arrests

Photo: Nikolaos S. Karastathis. Source: Wikicommons / 21WIRE + WalesOnline / JUNE 7, 2017

It is being reported that biometric automatic facial recognition (AFR) systems used by British police have now resulted in their first arrest. Police in Cardiff, Wales claim to have made the arrest on 31 May, but have provided very little information about it beyond the initial news release. This arrest is significant because – regardless of what the police claim – it clearly marks the shift from the testing of these systems to their operational deployment. In other words, the British public can expect these arrests to happen with increasing frequency for the foreseeable future.

For the past few years, 21WIRE has been watching and reporting on the development of biometric tracking and identification systems. Certain systems are concerned with ‘gait analysis‘ – identifying people by how they walk and move. Researcher and 21WIRE contributor Pippa King focuses on Biometrics in Schools. A year ago, 21WIRE reported on Britain testing ‘millimetre microwave’ systems that reportedly can detect armed individuals in a crowd.

But AFR systems are arguably more sinister than some other types of biometric tracking. Unlike fingerprints or DNA, our faces are usually on display all the time, and can be captured by CCTV systems, cameras on police vehicles, police body cameras, or any other type of camera. As Alastair MacGregor, the UK’s first Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material, wrote in 2014:

“… a searchable police database of facial images arguably represents a much greater threat to individual privacy than searchable databases of DNA profiles or fingerprints”.


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