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Facial recognition Controversy: Police gave King's Cross owner images of seven people

Written by  Oct 04, 2019

Images of seven people were passed on by local police for use in a facial recognition system at King’s Cross in London in an agreement that was done in secret, the details of which have been made public for the first time.

A police report, published on Friday by the deputy London mayor, Sophie Linden, showed that the scheme ran for two years from 2016 without any apparent central oversight from either the Metropolitan police or the office of the mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Writing to London assembly members, Linden said she “wanted to pass on the [Metropolitan police service’s] apology” for failing to previously disclose that the scheme existed and announced that similar local image-sharing agreements were now banned.

There had been “no other examples of images having been shared with private companies for facial recognition purposes” by the Met, Linden said, according to “the best of its knowledge and record-keeping”.

Daragh Murray, a senior lecturer at ​the University of Essex​, said he was surprised the Met had not admitted it was supplying images of individuals to King’s Cross at the time the scheme was launched in 2016. “The scheme seems to have been run without appropriate oversight, safeguards, and procedures,” the academic said.

The surveillance scheme – controversial because it involved tracking individuals without their consent – was originally agreed between borough police in Camden and the owner of the 27-hectare King’s Cross site in 2016.

King’s Cross first admitted it had deployed facial identification technology in CCTV cameras in August, prompting an outcry about the ethics and legality of the move. Facial recognition technology maps faces in crowds and compares them to images of people on a watchlist, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest to the police. The cameras can scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres and football crowds.

But there have been concerns about the regulatory framework governing facial recognition and its effectiveness, with studies suggesting it is less effective at accurately distinguishing black people. Khan has called for new legislation to regulate the technology.

The Met report said Camden police agreed in 2016 to supply images of individuals who had been “arrested and charged, cautioned or reprimanded or given a formal warning” to King’s Cross between May 2016 and March 2018.

uniAlso see: UK Universities Remain Vulnerable to Cyberattacks

No records were kept of whether the facial recognition software successfully recognised any of the seven people whose images were passed on, the Met admitted in the four-page report, or whether any police action followed a match.

Officers in Camden nevertheless came to a new data-sharing agreement with King’s Cross in early 2019, which would have governed any future use of the surveillance technology.

King’s Cross is owned by a consortium comprising the property developer Argent, Hermes Investment Management on behalf of BT Pensioners, and the Australian pension scheme AustralianSuper.

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