UK cops arrest man picked out by automatic facial recognition software

Graham Cluley

Facial thumb

UK cops arrest man picked out by automatic facial recognition software

Welsh police have arrested a man after real-time facial recognition software identified him as members of the public were monitored in and around Cardiff city centre.

The automatic facial recognition (AFR) technology – built by NEC – was put in place by South Wales Police at “strategic locations in and around the city centre” in the run-up to the UEFA Champion League final on June 3.

On May 31, the AFR technology – mounted on top of a police van – picked out the unnamed man, thought to be listed in a law enforcement database of some half a million custody images.

No details of what offences the man has been accused of have been released, but I can’t help but find the prospect of innocent people being further monitored in their movements decidedly creepy.

It’s not as though the UK is an unwatched nation already. At the last count, there are approximately six million CCTV cameras in the UK – one for every 11 people. The thought of more and more devices being linked to automatic facial recognition technology raises important questions about the general public’s privacy.

Of course, not everyone is going to view this development with concerns. The likes of NEC have been building products like NeoFace Watch for some time, promoting how automatic facial recognition could aid security at border controls and inside organisations:

NEC’s NeoFace Watch solution is specifically designed to integrate with existing surveillance systems by extracting faces in real time from existing video surveillance systems and matching against a watch list of individuals. When the system identifies an individual of interest from the watch list, it raises an alert, so appropriate actions can be taken rapidly to reduce the risk of public safety threats.

We need to always be careful than in our pursuit of greater security, we don’t throw away our fundamental human rights for privacy.

Never forget. Once we go down this road, it’s unlikely we will ever turn back.

Graham Cluley Graham Cluley is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s when he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and is an international public speaker on the topic of computer security, hackers, and online privacy. Follow him on Twitter at @gcluley, or drop him an email.

5 Replies to “UK cops arrest man picked out by automatic facial recognition software”

  1. My mother told me when I was 13 that I was big enough and ugly enough to look after myself. Since then I have tried to minimise photographs of myself (very hard to do) but I try.

    Being told that I was ugly means that I don't use Facebook and on Twitter, LinkedIn I don't use a photo of myself. I don't have a photo ID driving licence and my passport photo is not good.

    I shall have to find away to counter this. Sensible suggestions welcome (obviously I'd be a bit conspicuous walking around with a brown paper bag on my head).

  2. There's a very funny scene in the film "Four Lions" where, to avoid being recognised on the street, these guys keep moving their heads around frantically as they try to load a van. Hilarious!

  3. John Lewis: I don't know where you live, but here in the People's Republik of Kommiefornia you wouldn't be able to evade the Dep't. of Motor Vehicles requirement for a photo ID license if you wanted to drive a car legally. What's more, many businesses require a state-issued photo ID to make purchases by check or credit card.

    Given the deeply entrenched superstition that the state is the only agency that can positively establish a person's identity, I don't think it's realistic to expect that state-issued photo ID requirements will diminish. Quite the opposite, in fact.

    Of course, that's how the state acquires a data base of photos to use for facial recognition purposes. Despite the obvious potential for errors and abuse of such technology by the state, I suspect that most people will just go along with it, believing it somehow makes them "safer".

    And of course, by the time they realize it does nothing of the sort, it will be too late.

  4. Yep. Got told the same thing by my mother. Had to be with her all the time to "keep me off the streets."

  5. I think the timing of this article is impeccable but important. Following the very recent terrorist attacks in Manchester (my home town) and London, and the attack this week in Orlando, or maybe even in Tehran, positioning one of these vans in a strategic location near an event where thousands of people are in attendance (including mums, dads and children) could prevent such atrocities. I'm not saying they definitely would as it obviously depends whether or not the attackers are known to the authorities, but may act as a deterrent as well as monitoring for threats.

    Being so close to home and parent to five teenagers, any one of whom could have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, I'm emotionally attached to such news. I also understand the "human rights" discussion going on, but surely this is now the world we do live in. If we have nothing to hide then we shouldn't worry about the use of such technology. I'm an aging fat balding fifties-something, but my need for anonymity is far outweighed by my need for security.

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