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Initial Tests of Facial Recognition Technology Fail in London

Law enforcement officials across the globe are touting next-gen facial recognition technology as the latest in criminal-busting tech. While the recent innovation certainly has tremendous potential, early tests of the technology are proving to be anything but successful.

Examining the Numbers

In fact, some studies show that current facial recognition systems have a failure rate of 92 percent. To make matters worse, police in the UK are defending this number.

A recent statement released by the South Wales Police reads, in part: "Of course, no facial recognition system is 100 percent accurate under all conditions. Technical issues are normal to all face recognition systems, which means false positives will continue to be a common problem for the foreseeable future. However, since we introduced the facial recognition technology, no individual has been arrested where a false positive alert has led to an intervention and no members of the public have complained."

The South Wales Police have been testing facial recognition technology since June 2017. It's been implemented at more than 10 events – including sporting events, concerts, and even organized police stings. Unfortunately, the system is often incorrect.

At the 2017 Elvis Festival, which comprises 35,000 Elvis fans in the small town of Porthcawl, a total of 17 faces resulted in system matches. Unfortunately, only 10 of these matches turned out correct.

Similar numbers are reported wherever their facial recognition cameras have come into play thus far. At a prolific boxing match in October 2017, the system found only five true matches in contrast to 46 false alerts. It was also incorrect 98 percent of the time when used at the 2017 Notting Hill carnival.

There are also cases where the system fails to make any matches at all – either falsely or correctly. Cameras failed to make any matches when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle visited Cardiff in January 2018.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a prominent rights group in the region, spoke on the topic by saying: "These figures show that not only is real-time facial recognition a threat to civil liberties, it is a dangerously inaccurate policing tool. South Wales’ statistics show that the tech misidentifies innocent members of the public at a terrifying rate, whilst there are only a handful of occasions where it has supported a genuine policing purpose."

A spokesperson with the South Wales Police was quick to defend the system and the officers' response in the field by saying: "When the intervention team is dispatched this involves an officer having an interaction with the potentially matched individual. Officers can quickly establish if the person has been correctly or incorrectly matched by traditional policing methods."

Sticking to Their Guns

Despite the shortcomings, the South Wales Police hope to link their facial recognition system with other nationwide databases, like their Police National Database, the Automatic Number Plate Recognition database and other systems, in the near future. While it may seem shortsighted, especially given the controversy of their initial tests, UK officials remain confident that this is a step in the right direction.


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