In the wake of King Charles III’s coronation, which witnessed the deployment of facial recognition technology to monitor the crowd, concerns about the widespread use of this technology have emerged. Facial recognition systems have become commonplace in law enforcement agencies across the UK and other countries, extending their reach to US airports, refugee monitoring, and even targeting Beyoncé fans.
Alarming reports suggest that the UK government is now considering incorporating facial recognition technology into various law enforcement devices, such as body-worn cameras, drones, and number plate cameras. If these plans come to fruition, it may soon be nearly impossible to leave one’s home without having one’s face scanned.
While some argue that the benefits of facial recognition technology outweigh the concerns, others believe it is crucial to address the issues at hand. The key lies in finding a balance between security and privacy.
Facial recognition technology can effectively scan and compare multiple faces in a crowd with a database of known criminals, a technique known as “live facial recognition.” This method aims to reduce crime rates by enabling proactive identification. Furthermore, it can be applied retroactively to recorded CCTV footage.
In the UK, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 offers a legal foundation for the use of surveillance camera systems in public places. Additionally, the government’s surveillance camera code of practice permits the use of facial recognition systems in decisions that may negatively impact individuals, such as making arrests, as long as human supervision and decision-making remain integral.
It is important to note that facial recognition systems and other biometric information cannot be used autonomously for decision-making processes like automatically tracking suspects across multiple camera feeds.
Despite these regulations, concerns remain regarding the implications for law-abiding citizens. Civil liberties groups argue that the use of facial recognition in public spaces encroaches upon privacy and freedom, particularly in terms of its potential to track individuals at mass gatherings and engage in racial profiling.
While security cameras have long captured people’s daily lives, the ability of authorities to easily identify individuals in video footage is relatively new. This technology expands the scope of those targeted by law enforcement, exposing individuals to scrutiny for minor transgressions or lapses in judgment, which can now be easily linked to their identity and address.
Furthermore, the implementation of facial recognition could lead to the unwarranted targeting of individuals with criminal records, regardless of their intentions to commit illegal activities. The technology also presents an opportunity for racial profiling, where authorities may track or suspect individuals based on their background rather than concrete information about their activities.
Moreover, facial recognition may be employed against non-criminal individuals, including protesters or those deemed undesirable by law enforcement. Despite the Metropolitan Police’s claim that facial recognition would not target activists during the coronation, public outrage ensued when anti-monarchy demonstrators were arrested and subsequently released without charge.
The technology’s inherent inaccuracies are another cause for concern, as false positive matches may result in innocent individuals being mistaken for known criminals.
Given the perceived threats associated with facial recognition, it could significantly impede free speech and hinder demonstrations, having a chilling effect on public expression.
However, there are potential ways to utilize the technology more safely. Law enforcement agencies could adopt two preliminary steps—activity recognition and event detection—before resorting to facial recognition. This approach helps mitigate potential privacy breaches and false positive identifications.
Activity recognition involves identifying and categorizing human actions captured by CCTV or other sensors, encompassing activities such as running, sitting, or eating. Event detection, on the other hand, focuses on identifying specific occurrences or events within a given context, ranging from simple incidents like a passing car to more complex situations like accidents or altercations. By analyzing CCTV footage and other sensor data, event detection algorithms can detect and locate such events.
Therefore, activity recognition or event detection should be the initial step before deploying facial recognition on surveillance camera feeds.
Additionally, anonymizing camera data can allow law enforcement to study crowd activities while preserving privacy. Conducting regular audits and reviews would ensure responsible handling of collected data in compliance with UK data privacy regulations. This approach also addresses concerns regarding transparency and accuracy. By employing activity recognition or event detection as a precursor, authorities can provide clearer information, for instance through signage, about the nature of police surveillance in public spaces.
Ultimately, it falls upon the state to safeguard the privacy and security of its citizens to foster a healthy society. However, if facial recognition is implemented in a manner that significant portions of the population perceive as infringing upon their rights, it could cultivate a culture of suspicion and diminish people’s sense of safety in public expression. Striking the right balance between security and individual liberties is of paramount importance to ensure a harmonious coexistence in our evolving society.