By Aaron Kesel
London police are set to deploy real-time facial recognition technology throughout the city; while the U.S. is also implementing the tech among other biometrics in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta, making it the first in the U.S. to become fully biometric.
The Metropolitan Police announced that after testing facial recognition they have moved past the trial stage and are ready to permanently integrate the cameras into London. According to a report by the BBC, the cameras will be placed in locations popular with shoppers and tourists, like Stratford’s Westfield shopping center and the West End.
Each individual system will have its own “watch list” consisting of images of criminals wanted for serious and violent crimes.
Several human-rights groups have stated facial recognition is a worrying technology. One group, British human-rights group Liberty, called the move a “dangerous and sinister step.”
“This is a dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move,” Clare Collier, advocacy director at Liberty, said in a statement. “Facial-recognition technology gives the state unprecedented power to track and monitor any one of us, destroying our privacy and our free expression.”
This comes amid calls from politicians and campaigners in the UK to stop the police from using live facial recognition for public surveillance, BBC reported.
Facial recognition technology has shown numerous issues over the years such as racial bias. Other problems notable by Fight For The Future, which ran a campaign against implementing the technology at music venues, cited “dangers to their fans in the form of police harassment including — misidentification, deportation, arrests for outstanding charges during an event and drug use during an event, discrimination at their concerts, and fans in a permanent government database,” all very valid concerns.
Last year, Activist Post consistently reported numerous studies finding that the technology’s accuracy isn’t all it’s marketed to be. Then Big Brother Watch, a watchdog observing UK Metropolitan Police trials, stated the technology misidentified members of the public as potential criminals, including a 14-year-old black child in a school uniform who was stopped and fingerprinted by police.
In eight trials in London between 2016 and 2018, the technology gave “false positives” that wrongly identified individuals as crime suspects when an individual passed through an area with a facial recognition camera. The UK is now in the process of leaving the EU by the end of this month; the trial showed 96 percent of scans used by police to track watch list suspects were inaccurate, that’s a big deal!
Despite this, the police have now sought to deploy this dangerous technology. The EU recently discussed banning facial recognition technology as Activist Post reported.
Still, even after the UK leaves the EU, the country will remain under its laws until at least the end of 2020. So if the EU decides to ban facial recognition technology the UK may have to follow suit reversing implementation throughout London.
This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK,” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, told The Daily Mail. “This is a breath-taking assault on our rights and we will challenge it, including by urgently considering next steps in our ongoing legal claim against the Met and the Home Secretary. This move instantly stains the new Government’s human rights record and we urge an immediate reconsideration.”
Meanwhile, in the U.S., an entire airport in Atlanta is now using biometric technology, including facial-recognition cameras and other ID systems that plug into a data backbone installed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP). The CBP aims to screen passengers with little human intervention at airports across the country, Defense One reported.
“The neat thing about what they’re doing in Atlanta is that different players within the airport environment are plugging into the same [Customs and Border Protection]-created backbone—this Traveler Verification Service—to accomplish different identity verification functions throughout the airport,” Adam Klein, the Trump-appointed chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told Nextgov.
This is despite a Senator previously calling to roll back facial recognition technology used at airports, and the TSA themselves claiming to halt plans for screening Americans.
Last year, the Department of Homeland Security’s CBP branch claimed to have reversed a previous proposed plan to require all U.S. citizens to participate in its facial recognition entry/exit programs after backlash, as Activist Post reported.
This was after Activist Post reported that Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called for an end to facial recognition in airports due to lack of oversight on the technology.
No matter where you look, Big Brother has been pushing the use of surveillance technology all over, not just the UK, from Amazon helping law enforcement with its Facial Rekogntion software, DHS wanting to use it for border control, to the Olympics wanting to use the tech for security.
Even retail is pushing for the technology as an anti-theft mechanism to be introduced in a thousands of stores using biometric facial recognition software from FaceFirst to build a database of shoplifters, as Activist Post reported.
Some of the biggest airports in the country — estimated at 16 airports across the U.S. — are now scanning us as we board international flights. While CBP expects to scale up the program to cover more than 97 percent of passengers flying outside of the U.S. by 2021, according to Nextgov.
Further, the policy director of U.S. CBP believes that facial recognition has already become essential. The agency’s head Deputy Executive Assistant Commissioner John Wagner has also hilariously said that its facial tracking technology isn’t surveillance, as Activist Post reported.
In 2017, Homeland Security clarified their position on domestic spying, stating that Americans who don’t want their faces scanned leaving the country “shouldn’t travel.”
“The only way for an individual to ensure he or she is not subject to collection of biometric information when traveling internationally is to refrain from traveling,” the DHS wrote in a document.
The rapid growth of this technology has triggered a much-needed debate to slow down the roll out. Activists, politicians, academics and even police forces are expressing serious concerns over the impact facial recognition could have on our society.
Several lawmakers have even chimed in to voice concerns about Amazon’s facial recognition software, expressing worry that it could be misused, The Hill reported.
A Senate bill introduced last March would force companies who want to use facial recognition technology on consumers to first get their consent. If that happens, as soon as the ink is dry Amazon’s Ring and Amazon’s Facial Rekognition as well as the TSA's facial recognition devices could be banned across the U.S.
Congress under the House Oversight Committee recently held a bipartisan discussion on the issue of regulating the use of facial recognition technology and biometric cameras.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said, “there are virtually no controls …. Whatever walk of life you come from, you may be a part of this [surveillance] process.”
The committee’s top Republican Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio.) also expressed, “It’s time for a time out” on government use of the surveillance technology.
Privacy advocate groups, attorneys, and even more recently Microsoft, which also markets its own facial recognition system, have all raised concerns over the technology, pointing to issues of consent, racial profiling, and the potential to use images gathered through facial recognition cameras as evidence of criminal guilt by law enforcement.
The ACLU also recently sued several agencies including the FBI and DHS in its fight against facial recognition technology for violating individual citizens privacy rights, Activist Post reported.
Both the ACLU and Fight For The Future, as well as numerous other groups, have called for an end to the dangerous technology and the voices are getting louder. Already, we have had several wins in this long fight and there are signs of hope. First, San Francisco banned facial recognition technology being used by the government in May of this year; then Somerville, Massachusetts, and Oakland, California followed suit. Now, the cream of the crop may happen as the EU seeks to ban the technology which has turned China into an Orwellian dictator’s wet dream.
Fight For The Future has previously launched a first-of-its-kind interactive map that tracks where in the U.S. facial recognition technology is being used and where it is being resisted, along with a tool-kit for local activists who want to help kickstart a ban in their city or state, as Activist Post reported.
Consent to be identified by the government whenever and wherever we go is approval to have the government decide whether, when, and where we are allowed to travel like China. Put bluntly: that is a very dangerous precedent to allow.
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