How would you feel being watched, tracked and identified by facial recognition cameras everywhere you go? Facial recognition cameras are now creeping onto the streets of Britain and the U.S., yet most people aren't even aware. As we walk around, our faces could be scanned and subjected to a digital police line up we don't even know about. There are over 6 million surveillance cameras in the U.K. – more per citizen than any other country in the world, except China. In the U.K., biometric photos are taken and stored of people whose faces match with criminals – even if the match is incorrect. As director of the U.K. civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, I have been investigating the U.K. police's "trials" of live facial recognition surveillance for several years.
The UK's privacy regulator said it is studying the use of controversial facial recognition technology by property companies amid concerns that its use in CCTV systems at the King's Cross development in central London may not be legal. The Information Commissioner's Office warned businesses using the surveillance technology that they needed to demonstrate its use was "strictly necessary and proportionate" and had a clear basis in law. The data protection regulator added it was "currently looking at the use of facial recognition technology" by the private sector and warned it would "consider taking action where we find non-compliance with the law". On Monday, the owners of the King's Cross site confirmed that facial recognition software was used around the 67-acre, 50-building site "in the interest of public safety and to ensure that everyone who visits has the best possible experience". It is one of the first landowners or property companies in Britain to acknowledge deploying the software, described by a human rights pressure group as "authoritarian", partly because it captures images of people without their consent.
You know how most dystopian future thrillers feature facial recognition cameras that authoritarian governments use to track and control their citizens' every move? Amazon is working hard to make exactly that sort of facial recognition a reality. To make matters even worse, it has recently been revealed in the UK that some modern facial recognition systems have shockingly bad accuracy, returning mistaken identities as much as 98% of the time. I haven't been able to find stats on the accuracy of Amazon's Rekognition system, but the enthusiasm of governments to embrace questionably accurate technology for profiling their citizens is nonetheless troubling. Amazon Rekognition is a deep-learning AI that can analyze videos and images for a variety of different applications.
Public privacy is at risk of mass scale invasion as an increasing use of Big Data and a surge in the amount of overt CCTV has left regulators struggling to keep pace, according to the UK's surveillance commissioner. Alongside the launch of a new three-year strategy on Tuesday, surveillance camera commissioner Tony Porter told the Guardian that the UK government is falling behind the pace at which new CCTV technology is being implemented. The 2017-2020 National Surveillance Camera Strategy for England and Wales, which was first proposed in October and has now passed through its consultation phase, aims to establish a code of practice for the use of CCTV equipment, including the use of body worn cameras and automatic number plate recognition. Under the strategy, disparate groups and regulators would be brought together in an attempt to create a set of coherent rules, limiting the use of surveillance cameras to times when it was deemed proportionate and necessary. However, Porter has expressed alarm that the increasing number of CCTV devices could lead to more invasive surveillance tactics than anticipated, as video footage is now being linked with data analysis tools like facial recognition or being cross referenced with other monitored personal data and activities.
A sell-out crowd of 45,000 spectators watching the fifth and final Ashes Test in Sydney this week is, in turn, being watched by a team of security professionals at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG). For the first time, the SCG's security team is utilising 820 new cameras equipped with facial recognition technology to scrutinise the crowd for safety threats. The cameras, which feed into an upgraded operations centre inside the ground, allow security personnel to monitor patrons as they approach the ground and while they're inside the venue, an SCG Trust spokesman said on Thursday. The AU$3.5 million upgrade to security includes a new video analytics system that can detect and zoom in on unattended bags, suspicious vehicles, and strange behaviour. A trial in 2017 allowed police and security to intercept six banned spectators as they tried to enter the SCG.