back to article Facial recog system used by Met Police shows racial bias at low thresholds

The UK Parliament has heard that a facial recognition system used by the Metropolitan police during the King’s Coronation can exhibit racial bias at certain thresholds. Speaking to the Science, Innovation and Technology Committee, Dr Tony Mansfield, principal research scientist, National Physical Laboratory, said the NEC-based …

  1. FlamingDeath Silver badge

    To err is to be human…

    You all know the rest

    1. Santa from Exeter


      To Arrghh is to be a Pirate?

  2. Rikki Tikki

    Facial recognition test

    It seems people with some African ancestry may be susceptible to misidentification ...

    In the imperial treasury in Vienna, there is a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Franz I which, probably due to centuries of inbreeding, bears an astonishing resemblance to a current royal personage* - when we visited, SWMBO saw it straight away.

    Look on Google for "Franz I schatzkammer portrait"

    * But, no, we didn't check the Spanish Riding School for other possible matches.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      Re: Facial recognition test

      Hence the concern that the Met's facial recognition will get said personage pulled over for the outstanding offences of driving a Holy Roman Empire without due care and attention, causing it to break up on the hard shoulder.

  3. Lxbr

    How could it possibly go wrong?

    How could this possibly go wrong? Nobody could possibly think of a scenario. For example, it would never happen that:

    1. If the Met were scanning a large crowd of people for a dangerous and potentially armed suspect;

    2. They were certain the suspect was present (based on intelligence), but got no matches

    3. They get the operators of the facial recognition system to reduce the match accuracy until some positive result was achieved

    Even if this did happen, the Met would never shoot dead an innocent unarmed black person on the basis of faulty intelligence; or injure or kill them during an arrest; or detain them in circumstances leading to their death.

    It's good to know that it is completely inconceivable* that any of this could ever happen.


    >Mansfield added that he believed the Met did not operate the system at these thresholds.

    This is the very definition of weasel words from somebody who is supposed to be researching the system, and 'did not' != 'cannot'

    (* "You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means" - Inigo Montoya)

    1. chivo243 Silver badge

      Re: How could it possibly go wrong?

      It can go very wrong... Even with people! On many occasions in my life, people have completely mistaken me for someone else. I met a guy at a party that was almost my twin, and we even have the same first name. Fast forward a couple of weeks, the health club I belonged to hired a new receptionist. I walked up to the counter to sign in, and the girl half looks up and says "What the hell are you doing here?" I look at her and say I'm a member of the club. She takes a second look at me and says "OMG, I thought you were my brother," the same guy I had met a few weeks earlier. Needless to say, when I asked her out, she said no! Fast forward 15 years, I'm in Rome, and an Italian woman comes up to me on the street and starts talking to me like she knew me(my wife at the time was not pleased!). I spoke in English, and she realized her mistake, 2 minutes later we walked past my twin on the same street.

      Cue the Mistake song!!

      1. tip pc Silver badge

        Re: How could it possibly go wrong?

        It’s not often you meet your doppelgängeränger

        Have you seen meet the fockers?

        1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

          Re: How could it possibly go wrong?

          >Even if this did happen, the Met would never shoot dead an innocent unarmed black person

          That's unfair, sometimes they can't find a black man and have to resort to a Brazilian

          1. unimaginative Silver badge

            Re: How could it possibly go wrong?

            Its not fair to pick on the Met for racism - they are even "better" at being sexist.

      2. unimaginative Silver badge

        Re: How could it possibly go wrong?

        It happened to me in Knutsford, walking past a restaurant. two guys (about two meters away and with a clear view of me) called out a name and until I spoke were sure they knew me.

        Even after talking to them for a few minutes they thought we looked identical.

        Only time its happened to me, but then I am visible ethnic minority in both countries I have lived in (brown in one, whiteish in the other) so the odds are lower of finding people who look like me.

  4. Jedit Silver badge
    IT Angle

    "he believed the Met did not operate the system at these thresholds"

    Well of course not. It's a waste of limited computing time to do what an officer can do manually.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Mansfield added that he believed the Met did not operate the system at these thresholds."

    Silly me... I had assumed he was talking about the Metropolitan Police Service, responsible for law enforcement and the prevention of crime in Greater London, and the subject of a lot of newsprint recently because of yet more reports on institutional racism, 30 years after the Stephen Lawrence affair.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      It was probably one of the key requirements. "New facial recognition system should be as good as Met officers in identifying suspects on watchlists."

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    going to be some issues I reckon

    our (very expensive and new) video conference system can't tell black people if they sit in a shady spot and just refuse to zoom in on their faces...

    it's scary to think what will happen with some of the Met Police facial recognition, especially since they obviously have never lied in the past (week) & are never never never a bit trigger happy

    1. Korev Silver badge

      Re: going to be some issues I reckon

      I have a colleague who's half Indian-British, half white American; early in the Covid pandemic Teams couldn't tell the difference between her skin and the wooden bookshelves behind her...

  7. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "at certain thresholds"

    I.e. : it was turned on.

  8. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Did they

    get Constable Savage(ret) to program the facial recognition software?

    1. Hubert Thrunge Jr.

      Re: Did they

      He's running the SPG Retirement Centre, so doesn't have the time, unless there is someone who walks on the cracks in the pavement, or possesses an offensive wife...

      Now get out!

  9. MikeLivingstone

    We are about to hit the era of organisations being digitally racist. Either too little data causing false positives, or data with a historical poverty bias built in against certainty ethnicities informing financial decisions.

  10. GruntyMcPugh Silver badge

    "None of the data from the live facial recognition deployments were stored, she said."

    Uh huh. So, DNA and fingerprints taken after an arrest are _supposed_ to be deleted if there's no conviction, but pre 2013 they were kept indefinitely, so do we really think the facial recognition data captured is deleted?

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

Other stories you might like