Ken Marsh the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation has described China’s facial recognition as “absolutely correct” and “spot on”. Calling it “fantastic”, Marsh said it could be used to catch criminals and terrorists in the UK.
Citing the 2017 London Bridge attack, when police lost track of the terrorists before the killings, he said: “Facial recognition, if it was pointed in certain areas in London on a 24-hour basis, could pick these individuals up… if we could have stopped that I’m all for this.”
China, which has deployed a vast network of facial recognition CCTV cameras, was heavily criticised over its use of this technology after it was reportedly used by the government to track and control minority groups.
In particular, Muslims Uighurs have been heavily targeted via facial recognition. It is estimated that up to one million of them are being held in Chinese detention camps. China’s system has been described by Human Rights Watch as “China’s algorithms of repression”.
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Marsh told BBC Radio Essex‘s breakfast show: “Although China is a very intrusive country and I don’t agree with a lot of what they do…[on facial recognition] they’ve got it absolutely correct. They’re recognising individuals… they’ve got it spot on”.
Speaking to Sky News David Davis MP in response to Marsh’s comments, said: “Mr Marsh needs to check his facts before he tries to write policy. Independent analysis showed facial recognition was wrong four out of five times.
“He has simply swallowed Chinese propaganda about their own repressive practices. They may not care about false positives. In this country we do. We call it miscarriage of justice, and we do all in our power to avoid it.”
Since August 2016, the Met has been trialling the use of facial recognition on the public, which has sparked debate around its use and the public’s right to privacy.
A recently released independent report from researchers at the University of Essex, who were given access to six of ten trials in Soho, Romford and at the Westfield shopping centre in east London, found that the software was wrong 80% of the time.
The researchers said that it was “highly possible” if the technology was challenged in court, it would be deemed unlawful and that it was probably in breach of human rights legislation.
When confronted with these findings, Marsh said: “That’s just absurd. I’ve not heard that from anyone. Logic would tell you it’s just not fit for purpose. We’d throw it in the bin if it that’s bad,” he added.
“I do accept there are areas we need to get correct,” he said. “But I would add to that, if we stop someone incorrectly and they’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and we explain to them, ‘I’m so sorry, we’ve got this one wrong’ – if you’ve done nothing wrong, I personally wouldn’t have any problem with it whatsoever”.
Anti-surveillance campaign group, Big Brother Watch, is legally challenging the Met’s use of facial recognition technology.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, told Sky News, “This chilling endorsement of Chinese mass surveillance, from one of Britain’s most prominent police representatives, serves as a pressing warning against police making policy decisions that affect public freedoms in this country”.
“His denial of the findings of an authoritative review that was commissioned by the Met itself is worryingly dismissive and reveals an ideological commitment in the police for facial recognition that cannot be supported by facts.”