On Thursday, Metropolitan Police trialed a face recognition system in the East London town of Romford. The technology led to three arrests, according to The Independent. One individual was fined after an altercation that reportedly stemmed from his response to the facial recognition technology.
Flyers were placed in the area that warned people that law enforcement was in the process of trialling the system, facial recognition cameras protruding from parked police vehicles in the area. The Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition system seeks out faces from a police watchlist, then officers are alerted when there is a match.
According to The Independent, law enforcement released a statement before the Romford trial claiming “anyone who declines to be scanned will not necessarily be viewed as suspicious”.
Silkie Carlo, director of the civil liberty and privacy advocacy group Big Brother Watch, was monitoring the trials and witnessed one incident in which a man seemed to raise police suspicion when he raised his shirt to cover his face.
Carlo claims she saw police officers dressed in street clothes pull the man aside and demand his identification. “He appeared to have been targeted and then goaded by police simply for covering his face and making a principled objection to this intrusive surveillance,” Carlo told Gizmodo.
She says the man grew angry and told the officers to “piss off”. He was given a disorder fine of £90 ($162).
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police told Gizmodo that the man was stopped because he was “acting suspiciously”, and he was given a penalty notice because he “became aggressive and made threats towards officers”.
Carlo said she saw other incidents stemming from the trial. “We were disturbed to see several people being stopped, searched, and in that case even fined by police after covering their faces and objecting to facial recognition,” she said.
The Independent reports that the facial recognition trial led to the arrest of a 28-year-old man, suspected of false imprisonment; the arrest of a 35-year-old man, suspected of breaching a molestation order; and a 15-year-old boy, suspected of robbery. The boy was reportedly released.
“UK police are using this Orwellian technology in complete absence of public consent or a legal basis,” Carlo said. “Live facial recognition is a dangerously inaccurate mass surveillance technology that has no place in a democracy.”