UK Police Fines People Who Cover Their Face In Front Of Facial Recognition Camera

Law enforcement in London fined a man $115 for covering his face as he passed by a facial recognition camera.South Wales PD has a 90% false-positive rate in using facial recognition. Photo: Don Relyea | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Law enforcement for the U.K.’s capital is fining people who hide their faces as they pass by facial recognition surveillance systems on the streets. According to local sources, the fine for “disorderly behavior” was £90 ($115).

The facial recognition system was said to set up in a large green van in Romford, East London and reports suggest that the police are forcing people to be scanned by the system, even against their will. From the street, the said green van was obvious to the residents that it was a surveillance vehicle, a fact that made many of them uncomfortable.

One documented case of the said fining was when a man was fined for disorderly behavior after he covered his face with his jacket as he was passing by the surveillance vehicle to avoid being detected by the cameras. Against his will and contrary to his rights to privacy, the police officer who was monitoring the cameras reportedly stopped the man and took his photo anyway. Worse, the man got slapped with a £90 ($115) fine.

Witnesses heard the man shout at the police as he was being pulled away. The man refused the arrest saying, “If I want to cover my face, I’ll cover my face. Don’t push me over when I’m walking down the street. How would you like it if you walked down the street and someone grabbed your shoulder? You wouldn’t like it, would you?”

The police were later heard threatening the man of handcuffing him if he still resisted.

“Calm yourself down, or you’re going in handcuffs. It’s up to you. Wind your neck in.”

According to a recent interview of the unidentified man, he said that prior to him passing by the surveillance vehicle, he was already made aware that facial recognition cameras were set up, that’s why he covered his face.

“The chap told me down the road – he said they’ve got facial recognition. So I walked past like that. It’s a cold day as well. As soon as I’ve done that, the police officer’s asked me to come to him. So I’ve got me back up. I said to him, ‘f*** off,’ basically. I said, ‘I don’t want my face shown on anything. If I want to cover my face, I’ll cover my face; it’s not for them to tell me not to cover my face. I’ve got a now £90 fine; here you go, look at that.”

Because of what happened, rights advocates have slammed the local law enforcement for the behavior citing that the said man has every right to cover his face.

“He simply pulled up the top of his jumper over the bottom of his face, put his head down, and walked past. There was nothing suspicious about him at all … you have the right to avoid [the cameras], you have the right to cover your face. I think he was exercising his rights,” Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said.

90% False-Positive Rate

The local police in South Wales have been repeatedly slammed and criticized for using facial recognition technology, especially in crowded events. According to recent reports, the South Wales Police have previously scanned a crowd of more than 170,000 attendees of the 2017 Champions League final soccer match in Cardiff. The police were able to identify 2,470 “criminals” from the group, but it later turned out that 2,297 of those identified were innocent, and only 173 were actual criminals. That makes the software’s accuracy rate at 8% with 92% false-positive identification.

In a police data obtained by a Freedom of Information request, it was found out that the incident in the soccer finals was not isolated as data showed that there were false-positive rates of 87% and 90% in other events.

The call against the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement has never been louder in today’s time. San Francisco, one of the world’s tech capital, has recently banned the use of facial recognition by the police and other city agencies against their people to serve as a global model on how to regulate facial recognition technology.

However, amidst the growing public opinion agaianst facial reconition technology, Amazon, the manufacturer of the most commonly used facial recognition technology by law enforcement agencies around the world, Rekognition, has almost unanimously voted against the ban of selling their product to the police.

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