Security Market Segment LS
Wednesday, 06 September 2017 11:06

London police facial recognition tech falls flat on its face


Facial recognition technology used by London's Met police at the Notting Hill Carnival for the second consecutive year was unable to tell the difference between a young woman and a balding man.

The system, which was said to be "top-of-the-line", was being used to spot so-called troublemakers, according to the security company Sophos which quoted a rights group worker who had been invited to view its operation.

The carnival, held in the last week of August each year, attracts about two million visitors.

The company said the system had proved to be useless in 2016 and this year it was worse than that: "it blew up in their faces, with 35 false matches and one wrongful arrest of somebody erroneously tagged as being wanted on a warrant for a rioting offence".

Silkie Carlos, the technology policy officer for British civil rights group Liberty, said the system had "all the hallmarks of the very basic pitfalls technologists have warned of for years – policing led by low-quality data and low-quality algorithms”.

But the Met police viewed the use of the system as a resounding success, Carlos said, because it had come up with a solitary positive match.

Sophos said even this one correct match had some issues. "Even that was skewered by sloppy record-keeping that got an individual wrongfully arrested: the automated facial recognition was accurate, but the person had already been processed by the justice system and was erroneously included on the suspect database."

The company said that of 454 people arrested at last year's carnival, the system was unable to tag a single one as a potential troublemaker.

Photo: courtesy Adobe

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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