The last day of January 2019 was sunny, yet bitterly cold in Romford, east London. Shoppers scurrying from retailer to retailer wrapped themselves in winter coats, scarves and hats. The temperature never rose above three degrees Celsius. For police officers positioned next to an inconspicuous blue van, just metres from Romford's Overground station, one man stood out among the thin winter crowds. The man, wearing a beige jacket and blue cap, had pulled his jacket over his face as he moved in the direction of the police officers.
Facial recognition is a booming business! It has transformed the way we live in 2019, opening up exciting possibilities and posing new dangers. At present, we use facial recognition when unlocking a smartphone or laptop, but it will soon play a major role in everything right from booking a taxi to ordering food. Facial recognition is a form of biometric authentication that uses body measurements to verify your identity. It identifies people by measuring the unique shape and structure of the face.
Between its cloud services and retail business, Amazon has plenty of angles when it comes to raking in the cash. But CEO Jeff Bezos' ecommerce giant has one more unusual money maker up its sleeve: Selling facial recognition technology to the police. According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amazon recently sold access to its real-time "Rekognition" facial recognition tech to the Orlando, Florida police department, which could potentially use it as part of their future crime-solving goals. "City of Orlando is a launch partner of ours," Rekognition software director Ranju Das said during a developer conference in Seoul, South Korea. "They have cameras all over the city.
The facial recognition system built by NEC and used by South Wales Police has been shown to have an abysmal hit ratio, following the release of figures by the service. First noticed by Wired, the 2017 UEFA Champions League Final in Cardiff produced 173 "True Positive Alerts", and 2,297 false positives, representing a successful positive for 7 percent of identifications. The service said in a statement that it uses a watchlist of half a million custody images, and its use has been a "resounding success". South Wales Police said the high number of false positives at the Cardiff final was due to poor quality images supplied by UEFA, Interpol, and other agencies; an old NEC algorithm; and it being the first major deployment. "Since we introduced the facial recognition technology no individual has been arrested where a false positive alert has led to an intervention and no members of the public have complained," the police force said.
But now a new generation of cameras is beginning to be used. Like the one perched on the top of the Cardiff police van, these cameras feed into facial recognition software, enabling real-time identity checks -- raising new concerns among public officials, civil society groups and citizens. Some members of Parliament have called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said there was "serious and widespread concern" about the technology. Britain's top privacy regulator, Elizabeth Denham, is investigating its use by the police and private businesses.