UK police forces are increasingly experimenting with controversial new facial recognition (FR) technology for crowd control and locating suspects. Critics, however, have labeled the trials a shambles, pointing to the high error rate and even higher cost of the program.
Documents released under Freedom of Information Act requestshave shown that collectively South Wales Police and London's Metropolitan Police have spent millions of pounds on trials of the technology, despite the fact that both systems have been shown to have an error rate over 90 per cent.
Similar trials around the world have raised concerns around the technology, including in San Francisco where privacy advocates are calling for a ban on the use of FR by law enforcement.
It’s not just the police who are interested in the potential use of FR. From shopping malls to sporting grounds, it is becoming more and more difficult for the average person to know when this technology is being used to track them, by whom and for what purposes. And while FR may be error-prone now, this is unlikely to stay the case for long.
How comfortable the public is with the use of FR in public spaces is likely to vary depending on the context. Many people may be fine with police using FR for crowd control at major events, for example, but not with the same technology being used to track them around the supermarket aisles in an attempt to up-sell them on potatoes.
The role FR will play in societies will be decided after a broad and complex debate that's likely to take many years. The answer will almost certainly have to include some form of regulation to control how such a powerful technology is used.
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