The UK is the country with perhaps the largest number of surveillance cameras installed on every corner of every town – at least in what is now, perhaps increasingly ironically, known as “the free world.”
There was a time when this policy had been flaunted as a model for other countries to follow – before it proved useless in the face of what it would have been supposed to suppress, namely, major crime like terrorism.
This had also been the positive narrative upheld in the media and beyond – before major revelations were made by whistleblowers about the scope of mass surveillance, coupled with privacy concerns gaining prominence over the past years for a wide variety of reasons.
And any country with a potential to put together omnipresent CCTV with facial recognition tech – now there’s a match made in hell, privacy and human rights advocates will readily agree. But we’re not talking about China here. Although, China does feature in the story.
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The story concerns a decision made by UK’s home secretary, Sajid Javid, to support facial recognition tech being tested and possibly used by the police – even tough tests already proved it to be inefficient.
Javid told UK’s public broadcaster BBC – speaking in the context of combating online child abuse – that the police were “right to be on top of the latest technology.”
However, the report said, this latest facial recognition technology was found by University of Essex researchers to make “just eight correct matches out of 42 suggested.” This low rate of success in facial recognition tech is common.
The university was looking into the facial recognition tech tested by the London (Metropolitan) Police – whose head, Ken Marsh, just recently publicly recognized the merits of China’s widespread state surveillance.
“Although China is a very intrusive country and I don’t agree with a lot of what they do, they’ve got it absolutely correct. They’re recognizing individuals per second and they’ve got it spot on,” March told the BBC.
But UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is reportedly also wary of the use of facial recognition by law enforcement, calling for these agencies to “demonstrate that it is effective, and less intrusive alternatives are not available.”
In the US, there seems to be much less bipartisan doubt that this was the wrong way to proceed, at least according to a report, that in May urged “a time out” on using the tech.