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Met Police using ‘rights-abusing’ facial recognition cameras in Romford

Human rights charity Liberty says the surveillance technology ‘is a threat to our privacy’ and ‘chills our freedom of expression’

THE Met Police is using “rights-abusing” live facial recognition cameras at Romford town centre in east London.

The surveillance system is one of the last two of 10 pilot deployments being used to test out the technology.

The force claimed it would distribute leaflets and put up posters to inform the public during the eight-hour trials today and tomorrow, but campaigners said many passers-by remained unaware.

Campaign group Liberty braved the cold weather to warn the public of the camera’s location from 10am to 6pm. Activists said the last time the force had used live facial recognition cameras in a previous deployment on London’s streets no-one they spoke to was aware it was happening.  

The automatic software compares live footage of people’s faces to photos from a police database. Any possible matches are flashed up as an alert to officers, who then compare the faces and decide whether to stop someone.

Liberty said that the facial recognition cameras are “light years away” from CCTV technology.

A spokesperson said: “They create uniquely identifiable maps of our faces, more like a fingerprint than a photograph — and fingerprints are usually taken on arrest. This is happening to people as they go about their business.”

Liberty advocacy and policy officer Hannah Couchman said: “This intrusive surveillance technology has no place on our streets — it’s a threat to our privacy, it chills our freedom of expression and it’s discriminatory.”

The campaign group will be in Romford again tomorrow to warn people about the cameras and the risk to their rights.

The Met spent more than £200,000 on trialling the technology between August 2016 and July 2018, resulting in no arrests and only two people being stopped then released, with 110 people’s faces registered as potential “alerts” against police watchlists of wanted criminals.

Detective Chief Superintendent Ivan Balhatchet said: “Tackling violent crime is a key priority for the Met and we are determined to use all emerging technology available to support standard policing activity and help protect our communities.

“The technology being tested in this trial is developing all the time and has the potential to be invaluable to day-to-day policing.”

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