By Mayukh Saha
Orwell’s 1984 is becoming true in the UK or so it seems. Police trials will be conducted in Central London during this holiday season when people are out for Christmas shopping. Locations: Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and Soho. The objective of the police is clear: scan the faces of the people covertly. Yes – you heard it right? The police of UK are trying to get to access the information of people through their faces – a fundamental breach of privacy for the Londoners. However, the police have confirmed that they are doing it for public safety. Or so they say.
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How does it work
The facial recognition would work in a simple way. The police already have facial profiles of criminals or suspects in their records. The cameras used in the events would be activated and they would scan the faces of the people in the crowd. The cameras are ultra-fast and would immediately start comparing it with the police records, searching for a possible match. However, there might be possible false matches, which the police will investigate further before dropping in on the suspect’s home. It sounds full proof – but there’s a catch.
It’s a massive breach of privacy
Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaigner, has called it dangerous, authoritarian and lawless. It is actually a way of giving too much power in the hands of the government, especially without consent. No individual should be forced to share their personal information with the police or any other authority. Facial analyses bring out a lot of privacy issues. Firstly, how could you know where the face is being used? It also brings the city or area down to a state of constant surveillance. Free speech is struck down. People have to be more careful or else they risk being arrested and it’s a great weapon to suppress dissenters. For any authoritarian government, such a technology is a gift. They could track another person’s activities as facial recognition is often used as a biometric to store different information of an individual, including credit information. Big Brother will be always watching you every step. God save you if you do any misstep because he will get on you at that instant. It sounds scary – because it is so. As Big Brother Watch mentions: it’s a breach of fundamental rights. A war on free speech. And that’s not all – even if we consider it as a safety issue, it was revealed that the Met’s facial recognition was really flawed, being almost 98% inaccurate. It’s no surprise than when this technology was used earlier, it generated about a staggering number of suspects who were actually innocent.
Your consent will be valued
However, the police have confirmed that they will not be using force. When the trials will be occurring, the police will be uniformed, and they will be giving away information leaflets to the people for eight hours on both the days. You can choose to either take part in the trial or you can go your own way. They have promised that anyone who declines getting scanned will not be considered suspicious. If that is true, then it’s a good thing. But the question always comes down to: can we trust them?
The good vs the bad
The UK police force has begun facial recognition since November. According to Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, the technology is capable of bringing great public benefits. But she has also agreed that it is intrusive and is a major change in how the law-abiding people will be monitored as they conduct their day-to-day business. It really makes you think of it as a medicine – it does have the potential to cure your disease but it comes with a lot of side effects. Question is: do the side-effects outweigh the benefits? We have to wait and see.
Two sides of the debate have equally good points making us arrive at a stalemate. The technology is no doubt great and can potentially lower crime, but it’s also designed to intrude and breach our society. Are we sure it won’t turn out to be Orwellian? It’s a question the UK crowd is currently dealing with, and so is the rest of the world.
IMAGE CREDIT: Andriy Popov