back to article MPs call for 'immediate' stop to facial recog in UK as report underlines bias risks in 'pre-crime' algos used by coppers

MPs across parties have called for an immediate "stop" to live facial recognition surveillance by the police and in public places. The joint statement signed by 14 MPs including David Davis, Diane Abbott, Jo Swinson, and Caroline Lucas stated: We hold differing views about live facial recognition surveillance, ranging from …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    MPs call for 'immediate' stop to facial recog

    I hate to say this, but it's futile posing. Never mind that the MPs only started becoming interested in the subject, when they've suddenly run out of brexit-related problems, it would have been futile from the start. Once the technology is there, that's it, it will be used - and abused - particularly by the governments because they always run after the next golden bullet that'll help them solve all problems, real and imaginary (TERRORISM! CHILDREN!) at no cost and great glory to themselves. The only thing that this will achieve is that some laws will be passed to CONFIRM the legality of facial recognition, like in the past, laws have been passed in the UK and elsewhere, to confirm what the state was doing already, illegally, against its own citizens. I'm sure the bad guys can't wait until the laws allows them to use facial recognition for their own, alternative purposes ;)

    1. fwthinks

      Re: MPs call for 'immediate' stop to facial recog

      Not necessarily. It depends on how successful the technology is. In an ideal world the evidence will be the determining factor whether this is adopted or not based on how well it works. Unfortunately we live in a world where evidence and science are considered fake news. So probably it will used to trick people into thinking it works - and that is where the risk exist. It is then adopted to to simply show that the police are doing something about crime.

      1. John G Imrie
        Big Brother

        So probably it will used to trick people into thinking it works

        Like TV detector vans and lie detectors then.

        1. JulieM Silver badge

          TV detector vans

          TV detector vans were entirely possible in theory. TV sets (at least, all but the first pre-war, single-channel monsters) use superhet circuits for the radio reception side of things, and there is always some unwanted leakage of the local oscillator. And the L.O. frequency is by design a constant difference from the received frequency, so it's even possible to infer what channel might be being watched.

          Now, if the detector van was using a superhet to pick up the local oscillator of your TV, then it would have been possible to build a TV detector van detector; which could cut the power to your TV when it detected a TV detector van in the vicinity, and restore it once it had driven off.

          Although it would be a good idea to build your TV detector van detector using a straight TRF circuit; otherwise, it would be possible to fit the TV detector van with a TV detector van detector detector, possibly requiring you to spend more than the licence fee on the necessary low-noise components to build a TV detector van detector detector detector .....

          Of course, whether any of this was actually necessary in practice, given that not everyone has the relevant knowledge of RF engineering. It's probably enough just to stick a scary-looking aerial on top of any black van, drive it around the streets for half an hour and watch the queues building up in the local Post Office ..... and the fact that it's all entirely viable in theory is good enough for the smarter ones.

          1. Henry Hallan

            Rotating Roof Rack

            Another candidate was the magnetic deflection used for the CRT display. A powerful magnetic field needed to change rapidly in the flyback part of the scan producing a long series of harmonics of 15625Hz. The detector vans I saw in the 80s looked like they had some kind of search coil.

            1. Cederic Silver badge

              Re: Rotating Roof Rack

              Given the ability to tell what was being watched using Van Eck phreaking, merely determining that a television was in use doesn't feel remotely implausible.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: MPs call for 'immediate' stop to facial recog

        "Not necessarily. It depends on how successful the technology is."

        Check previous reports for its levels of success. 42 matches were made at a rate of around 1 per 1000 people identified. Of those, 8 were considered accurate matches.

        Mathematically the systems appear to be flawed.

        If on the other hand, it identifies a "terrorist", all flaws will be ignored.


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: when they've suddenly run out of brexit-related problems

      What are you on and can I have some?

    3. Snake Silver badge

      Life imitates art

      It will be controlled once, and after, it all blows up in someone's face. I give a hats-off to the MP's for recognizing the Minority Report issue this early in the adoption of the tech, hopefully they can mitigate the damage before we end up in a true pre-crime world.

    4. BebopWeBop Silver badge

      Re: MPs call for 'immediate' stop to facial recog

      While I agree with much of what you say, could you enlighten us as to what Brexit related problems they have run out of?

  2. Blockchain commentard Silver badge

    Er, who's going to tell them about Gatwick airport?

    1. horse of a different color

      I went through Gatwick on Monday. Isn’t it just automating passport control? I can’t see much harm in using AI to match your face to your passport photo. Trawling public spaces for faces is something else entirely. I hope they succeed in getting this stuff banned.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I can’t see much harm in using AI to match your face to your passport photo.

        no harm, nosir, just a steady stream of test subjects. On top of the usual POTENTIAL to catch bad people, it's a GREAT testing ground to improve (and test) technology. After all, you have thousands and thousands of passport photos a day, tested against thousands of faces which are meant to be 100% match. If it doesn't - bzzzz - need to improve here. All legal, of course :(

        And how about testing this database against THAT one? And THAT one. Again - all legal, of course :(

    2. horse of a different color

      Also, insert joke about cold, humourless automatons at departure gates being replaced by robots.

      1. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge

        Yeah maybe. It's not the job I'd choose to do either, but you do get out what you put in. If you're some self obsessed asshat that simply MUST get on the plane first, but can't even be bothered to have your passport and ticket ready at the right point and end up holding everyone else up - then you generally get what you deserve.

  3. adam 40

    Bobbies on the Beat

    In the past, we had more bobbies on the beat, and less crime (or so the rose-tinted memory serves).

    Now they are saying, if there are more bobbies on the beat, there will be MORE crime??

    Something wrong here...

    Also, if you put more police into a particular area, won't the crims select a quieter area to perpetrate their misdeeds?

    This is pointing to one thing: criminals must be much stupider than they were back in the day, despite the expansion of the prisons, where they get their education.

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Bobbies on the Beat

      'much stupider'?

      No, they were more gramatically correct.

    2. John 104

      Re: Bobbies on the Beat

      Much more stupider.


    3. Mike 137 Silver badge

      Re: Bobbies on the Beat

      What they actually seem to be saying is that an uneven distribution of bobbies on the beat (more in some areas than others) will inevitably result in higher detection and prevention rates where there are more of them than where there are fewer. If, in an ideal world, PC Dixon and colleagues pounded the beat everywhere at the same rate, the differential would not occur. The problem is that policing has got too costly (like a lot of other societal goods) so there aren't enough bobbies to go round. Hence the (unfortunately flawed) notion of trying to predict where they'll be most needed. Its origin is little different from that of the robotisation of contact centres, self service checkouts, online "help" systems etc. - people have got too expensive, so we try to replace them with "technologies" we assume to be perfect until we find out too late we were wrong.

      So this is just a badly thought out part of a desperate attempt to make do with inadequate resources. There's no hidden agenda in it, but that doesn't mean it won't backfire spectacularly if it gets to be the norm.

    4. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: Bobbies on the Beat

      "Now they are saying, if there are more bobbies on the beat, there will be MORE crime??"

      The level of crime that's reported to the police (and thus becomes statistics) is not always the same as the actual level of crime. More coppers might lead to people reporting small crimes (eg a car break-in) that they wouldn't have bothered with before.

      Of course, depending on your level of respect for police, one might assume that more cops on the street would lead to more illegal stop-and-searchs and more police brutality etc, which certainly should be classed as crimes.

  4. NonSSL-Login

    If only...

    ...these technologies were used for their sole advertised purpose of stopping terrorism or catching dangerous criminals, then most people would be fine with them.

    But time and time again the police, the government and security services will use and abuse every bit of technology for every reason other than that. Hence the backlash and no wanting the new super duper 'terrorism stopping' technology.

    Be it the RICO terrorist law that the BBC used to spy and catch tv licence evaders or actual hardware, none of these solutions apply to the single and narrow scope it gets sold to us as. The creep to other areas is fast and unlimited and its great to see MP's on top of it, despite the fact nothing will change and we will be ever more increasing spied on.

    How many non-speed pr parking related ANPR cameras do you think you get recorded on using any main roads, just so they can work out where people are if they use their own cars. Tracking peoples movement through their credit car actions. Now they want to know who walked where on what day so they can catch future criminals, despite not having enough police to turn up to burglaries although they manage to lock up people in cells who put the wrong rubbish in the wrong colour bins. Yet we are supposed to trust them with privacy invading technology to prevent 'future crimes' through computer algorithms. You turn up at the station after pub closing 5 times a week, obviously a drug dealer or something if the algorithy see's you wearing trainers too /sarcasm

    1. John 104

      Re: If only...

      As a yank, I was always mystified about the TV license thing. I thought we had tax hungry politicians...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: If only...

        "As a yank, I was always mystified about the TV license thing."

        I can see your point. But as a Brit, I was always puzzled by TV shows which played a 2 minute intro, had an ad break, played the title sequences, had an ad break, played a 30 minute show, which took an hour due to more ad breaks, followed by credit sequence and an announcement, "stay tuned for scenes from our next episode", then an ad break before said scenes appeared.

        I can even understand the people who say they never watch the BBC so why should they pay a licence fee. But having to compete with the BBC has restrained the commercial channels from going "full USA", along with the rules on broadcast advertising (which have been relaxed in recent years) We still don't get banner ads over the actual show after the ad break as finished. I remember watching a US TV broadcast show which had subtitles relating to a significant plot point and the feckers put a banner ad over the top of the subtitles for a feckin' Chrysler car!!!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: can see your point. But as a Brit, I was always puzzled by TV shows

          as an (ex-kindof) Pole, I'm puzzled that the Poles pay for tv license AND STILL get those ad breaks left right and centre on their license-funded channels. The most baffling bit is, they think it's normal.

          That said, people find it normal that they fund public transport and health service and education through their taxes and still pay for bus tickets, paracetamol and for higher education...

  5. LeahroyNake Silver badge


    'We call on UK police and private companies to immediately stop using live facial recognition for public surveillance.'

    They should have omitted 'live' from that statement. Buffering the data for say I don't know 30 seconds? Maybe half hour? It's then not live but still but still a violation to privacy.

  6. John Browne 1

    Not much has changed then.

    Casablanca (1942)...

    Police Captain Louis Renault: "Realizing the importance of the case, my men are rounding up twice the usual number of suspects."

    Before you get cross with me, this is not the line at the end, where Renault already knows Rick did it and is covering for him. That was " Major Strasser has been shot... round up the usual suspects."

  7. Archie Campbell

    Punch and Judy meets The Golden Duck?

  8. BOBSta
    Black Helicopters


    Last weekend, I happened to notice several new screens hanging from the ceiling inside the entrance of my local city-centre superstore branch of Boots the Chemist.

    Several door "lane" video cameras had been pointed at the entrance and a live feed was being displayed on the screens. Every person entering the shop was highlighted with a nice shiny coloured recentangle graphic around their head!

    I don't recall seeing any notice outside the shop warning of this invasion of privacy, or how long the video / frame captures would be kept for. Certainly didn't sign anything agreeing to the storage of said images...

  9. The Indomitable Gall

    An overlooked problem

    "Algorithms have to crunch through tons of data in order to make accurate predictions. Relying on a single individual's data is probably not enough to get it to work. Even if a tool is effective for groups of people, it doesn't mean it'll necessarily be accurate for a single person."

    It's even worse than that, though. Setting negative expectations regarding an individual is likely to increase that person's alienation, making the negative prediction a self-fulfilling prophecy. A famous education experiment in Switzerland told teachers that a set of kids were going to be "late bloomers" and highly intelligent. The teachers treated them differently, and the prediction game true. There was nothing particularly special about these kids, other than teachers' expectations.

    If convicted criminals are treated with constant suspicion by beat cops, they'll be convinced that rehabilitation isn't possible and bam! -- self-fulfilling recidivism prophecy.

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2020