At the end of each summer for the last 14 years, the small Welsh town of Porthcawl has been invaded. Every year its 16,000 population is swamped by up to 35,000 Elvis fans. Many people attending the yearly festival look the same: they slick back their hair, throw on oversized sunglasses and don white flares. At 2017's Elvis festival, impersonators were faced with something different. Police were trialling automated facial recognition technology to track down criminals.
Police in South Wales have arrested a man using automatic facial recognition software. It's the first time a person has been seized this way in the UK, according to Wales Online, following a series of trials at large-scale public events including Download music festival and Notting Hill Carnival. The most recent was the Champions League final in Cardiff, which took place last Saturday (June 3rd). The man, however, was arrested three days beforehand (May 31st). In a statement to Ars Technica UK, police confirmed he was a local resident and "unconnected" to the game in Cardiff.
South Wales Police carried out the U.K.'s first arrest using facial recognition, Ars Technica UK reported. The arrest using automatic facial recognition (AFR) was made on May 31 and was not related to the Champions League final. It's unclear whether the apprehension was due to authorities testing the technology prior to the match. International Business Times has reached out to South Wales Police regarding the arrest. The department previously said there was "a very low number of arrests over the period of the festival including match day," in a statement on Tuesday.
A growing backlash against face recognition suggests the technology has a reached a crucial tipping point, as battles over its use are erupting on numerous fronts. Face-tracking cameras have been trialled in public by at least three UK police forces in the last four years. A court case against one force, South Wales Police, began earlier this week, backed by human rights group Liberty. Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff whose image was captured during a test in 2017, says the technology is an unlawful violation of privacy, an accusation the police force denies. Avoiding the camera's gaze has got others in trouble.
Artificial intelligence software capable of interpreting images, matching faces and analysing patterns of communication is being piloted by UK police forces to speed up examination of mobile phones seized in crime investigations. Cellebrite, the Israeli-founded and now Japanese-owned company behind some of the software, claims a wider rollout would solve problems over failures to disclose crucial digital evidence that have led to the collapse of a series of rape trials and other prosecutions in the past year. However, the move by police has prompted concerns over privacy and the potential for software to introduce bias into processing of criminal evidence. As police and lawyers struggle to cope with the exponential rise in data volumes generated by phones and laptops in even routine crime cases, the hunt is on for a technological solution to handle increasingly unmanageable workloads. Some forces are understood to have backlogs of up to six months for examining downloaded mobile phone contents.