Pedestrian fined for covering face during facial recognition trial

A pedestrian has been fined £90 for disorderly behaviour after attempting to cover his face while walking past a facial recognition camera in East London.

May 17, 2019
By Tony Thompson

The incident, which was captured on camera by a film crew from the BBC Click technology news show and broadcast earlier this week, occurred after officers set up a camera van in Romford earlier this year.

As he walked past the camera the man hid his face with his hat and jacket.

A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said the man – who officers believed was acting suspiciously – was initially stopped and then “became aggressive and made threats towards officers.” He was then issued with a penalty notice for disorder as a result.

The BBC footage shows the man telling officers: “How would you like it if you walked down the street and someone grabbed your shoulder? You wouldn’t like it, would you?”

An officer replies: “Calm yourself down or you’re going in handcuffs. It’s up to you.”

After receiving the fine, he told a BBC reporter that a man down the road told him “they’ve got facial recognition” so he walked past covering his face.

“As soon as I’ve done that, the police officer’s asked me to come to him,” the man added. “I said ‘I don’t want me face shown on anything. If I want to cover me face, I’ll cover me face’. It’s not for them to tell me not to cover me face. I’ve now got a £90 fine.”

Ivan Balhatchet, covert and intelligence lead for the MPS, told the programme that the force’s senior management all believed that “not trialling such technology would be neglectful” on their part.

“We ought to explore all technology, to see how it can keep people safer, how it can make policing more effective,” he said. “However, we are completely aware of some of the concerns that have been raised and what we are doing with these trials is actually trying to understand those better so we can actually protect human rights but keep people safe at the same time.”

The incident with the pedestrian occurred during the last of ten trials run by the MPS, which concluded earlier this year. The BBC noted that, on the same day as the man was fined, three wanted criminals were arrested after being identified by the cameras.

The footage of the incident has emerged just days after the US city of San Francisco passed a ban on police using facial recognition technology. South Wales Police is also set to face a legal challenge against its own use of the technology in a Cardiff court next week.

A detailed investigation of the police use of facial recognition technology appears in this month’s Police Professional magazine.

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