A U.K.-based watchdog group called Big Brother Watch has now released a report highlighting just how inaccurate police-use of facial recognition software has been and warning that its use is spreading. In fact, according to the report, on average, as many as 95-percent of matches found in police databases have been incorrect. Despite that fact, those photos have historically remained stored in police records. While authorities in the Metropolitan Police force have yet to make any arrests based on those, it may have stored as many as 2,451 innocent individual’s photos without informing them. That’s also the department with the worst track-record with the technology, the report says, getting as many as 98-percent of identifications wrong. The South Wales Police record is only slightly better, with 91-percent of identifications qualifying as incorrect. With that said, the department has arrested as many as 15 individuals and confronted 31 innocent citizens who needed to prove their identity to avoid arrest. Worse, no department of the 35 questioned under the Freedom of Information request was able to provide exact figures about how many photos were in storage.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. the report expects the use of facial recognition by police to spread in more public spaces. There may also be a risk of spread into other venues such as sports which, in that country, are owned privately. Beyond even that, a concern has been raised about how further companies might be incentivized to hand over access to data for use in facial recognition programs. Many of those companies are already collecting information, photos, and other data from users for their own purposes. It’s not a big jump from that to handing data over to government offices, the report warns. That’s not necessarily unfounded, either, given the rapid spread of the technology’s use in China and the proliferation of other technology in the U.S. Police body-cams and traffic cameras, for example, already provide a way for the technology to begin seeping in.
The obvious concern here is for human rights and the rights of innocent civilians to expect a reasonable degree of privacy. Not only do rights groups worry about any agency holding photos of individuals without authorization or cause. The groups are concerned about the security of those databases holding that information, among other things. Despite the apparent success of such programs in regions such as China, it’s an issue that isn’t likely to go away anytime soon either. So anybody interested in checking out the full report for more information will want to head over to the button below.