Live facial recognition technology trialed in Barking

One of the very first uses of live facial recognition technology in Barking saw police arrest a man who failed to turn up to court on a sexual offence charge 10 years ago.

The man was arrested on June 19 during the Met’s second day of trialling the technology in the borough.

During a meeting with Barking and Dagenham Council’s overview and scrutiny committee on Tuesday July 9, Superintendent David Rhodes said its use so far in the borough has been a ‘real positive’.

Supt Rhodes said: “[It’s] for potentially people who are wanted or are registered sex offenders, so people who are out in the community walking around, we’ve identified them and there’s been an intervention, so [it’s been a] significant proactive operation.

“Live facial recognition is a real precise piece of technology which we’re using, these results there are a real positive and we’re looking to get that back in the borough where we can.” According to council documents, the technology was first used on June 11 and saw 10 arrests in Dagenham Heathway and arrests in Barking.

In total police made 18 arrests across the first two days of using the technology across the borough. Live facial recognition technology captures the public through a still or live camera feed and can be used to match people against a pre-determined database of faces in less than a second.

The Met says it uses the technology, which can compare people’s images to a specific watchlist of people wanted by the police, as it helps to identify people who have broken the law. If a person’s face is not a match to anyone on the police’s watchlist, their biometric data is immediately and automatically deleted.

Why is it controversial?

Police first used it in London at Notting Hill Carnival in August 2016 and since then the Met has rapidly expanded its use across the capital and is using it more regularly.

Big Brother Watch, a campaign group which is against the technology being used by the Met and private companies in public spaces, argues that it sets a ‘dangerous precedent worldwide’ and have called out its ‘Orwellian’ use.

Studies have also found that technology has misidentified people of colour at a higher rate compared to white people and there is also the risk of an innocent person getting arrested. In November 2022, a 28-year-old Black man was wrongly arrested in Louisiana, USA, and was jailed for seven days after the technology misidentified him as a purse thief.

Currently, there is no legislation in place for live facial recognition technology and police forces across the country are in charge of how it’s deployed.

In January 2023, Cllr Areeq Chowdhury from neighbouring borough, Newham successfully called on thee council to ban its use in the borough until anti-discrimination safeguards are put in place.


Ruby Gregory

Local Democracy Reporter