Facial recognition cameras are set to be deployed across London for the first time, the Metropolitan Police has announced.
The roll out of the live facial recognition technology is expected to begin within a month and is designed to help the police tackle serious crime by locating and arresting wanted suspects – but privacy groups have already criticised the decision.
The technology will be deployed in what's described as 'intelligence-led' specific locations around London and will be used to scan the faces of people passing through the area, with the aim of identifying wanted individuals.
"This is an important development for the Met and one which is vital in assisting us in bearing down on violence. As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London," said Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Nick Ephgrave.
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The Met Police say that the cameras will be focused on small, targeted areas and will be clearly signposted to members of the general public. The force also says that the technology will be separate to other imaging systems such as CCTV and cameras worn by police officers.
However, the decision to roll out facial recognition technology across London has not been welcomed by privacy and civil liberties groups.
"This is a dangerous, oppressive and completely unjustified move by the Met. Facial recognition technology gives the state unprecedented power to track and monitor any one of us, destroying our privacy and our free expression," said Clare Collier, advocacy director at human rights advocacy group Liberty.
"Rolling out a mass surveillance tool that has been rejected by democracies and embraced by oppressive regimes is a dangerous and sinister step. It pushes us towards a surveillance state in which our freedom to live our lives free from state interference no longer exists," she added.
"This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK," said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, a privacy campaign group.
"This move instantly stains the new Government's human rights record and we urge an immediate reconsideration," she added.
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Prior to the technology being rolled out, the Met says it will engaging with communities at a local level.
"We all want to live and work in a city which is safe: the public rightly expect us to use widely available technology to stop criminals," said Ephgrave.
"Equally I have to be sure that we have the right safeguards and transparency in place to ensure that we protect people's privacy and human rights. I believe our careful and considered deployment of live facial recognition strikes that balance," he concluded.
The deployment in London follows trials of facial recognition across the UK, with one of the most recent by South Wales Police in Cardiff on the day of Cardiff City v Swansea City football derby.
Just last week, the European Union suggested it could ban facial recognition technology in public spaces.
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