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Police told to ‘take a breath’ over facial recognition technology

Green Party's Sian Berry challenges Mayor and Met Commissioner over 'intrusive' policing

10 November, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Sian Berry says the police ask for consent after bring in new tactics

POLICE have been told to “stop and take a breath” over a rush to use new facial recognition technology on the public.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Met Commissioner Cressida Dick were told that the force was introducing new “intrusive” strategies without wider consent, as the pair took questions from London Assembly members on Thursday.

Green Party co-leader Sian Berry, who is also a councillor in Highgate and an Assembly member, argued there should have been more discussions in the open before the introduction of spit hoods on suspects, orders banning protests and allowing more stop and searches, and the use of new tech which can pick people out in a crowd.

Human rights campaigners have raised concerns about members of the public being drawn into a database of faces as they go about their day, and it was revealed earlier this year that police had secretly trialled facial recognition devices in King’s Cross, a move the Met later apologised for.

Elizabeth Denham, the UK information commissioner, said this week that police forces across the country needed to be able to justify their deployment after her office investigated how it was being used by police in London and South Wales.

She said: “From Live Facial Recognition to the development of artificial intelligence systems that analyse gait and predict emotions based on facial expressions, technology moves quickly. It is right that our police forces should explore how new techniques can help keep us safe. But from a regulator’s perspective, I must ensure that everyone working in this developing area stops to take a breath and works to satisfy the full rigour of UK data protection law.”

Speaking in the London Assembly chamber, Ms Berry said: “What we’ve seen in recent years is a number of new tactics at a strategic level that involve physical force or compulsion being introduced, without political and public consent being secured beforehand. I think you might be going about the introduction of these new tactics in the wrong order. Shouldn’t we be having discussions about these new intrusive tactics and the ways in which human rights might be engaged in advance?”

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Met Commissioner Cressida Dick

Ms Dick said: “I’ve been the first to say that new technologies which should be being used by the police need to be done so in a way which is in accordance with broadly what the public would like and I am welcoming as many conversations about this as possible. “But what would be a disgrace is if we get to 2025 and we were still talking and nobody is making any decisions about how we go forward. I do have freedom as the commissioner to decide operationally what tactics we will deploy, what new technologies we might wish to use, and I will always want to do that with the support of the public.”

Mr Khan added: “Facial recognition is a phenomenon that’s basically here, it’s the 21st century. Our frustration is the delay from the government and parliament to legislate and provide the rules by which the police can apply facial recognition.”

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