Independent Report on the London Metropolitan Police’s Trial of Live Facial Recognition Technology

*This post has been created as a placeholder for this independent report, as the original site of publication is no longer active.

The report, by Professor Peter Fussey and Dr Daragh Murray from the University of Essex, focuses on recent trials conducted by the London Metropolitan Police Service (MPS). It is the only independent evaluation of police use of facial recognition technology, to-date.

It identifies significant flaws in both the MPS’ processes and the technology involved. 

The authors find it “highly possible” that the MPS’ use of LFR to date would be held unlawful if challenged in court and document significant operational shortcomings displayed in the trials which could affect the viability of any future use of LFR technology. 

In light of their findings, the report’s authors are calling for all live trials of LFR to be ceased until these concerns are addressed with an appropriate level of public scrutiny and debate. 

In order to compile the report, Professor Fussey and Dr Murray were granted unprecedented access to the final six of the ten trials run by the MPS, running from June 2018 to February 2019. They joined officers on location in the LFR control rooms and engaged with officers responding on the ground. They also attended briefing and de-briefing sessions, and planning meetings. 

The key concerns raised in the report, which is to be published on Wednesday 29 May 2019, are: 

  • The research process adopted by the MPS to trial the LFR technology did not adequately address the identified objectives of the trials – there was insufficient pre-test planning and conceptualisation.  
  • There was an absence of an explicit legal basis for the use of LFR; the implicit legal basis identified by the MPS is inadequate in relation to the ‘in accordance with the law’ requirement established by human rights law. 
  • There was an absence of effective analysis addressing the ‘necessity in a democratic society’ of the use of LFR in the circumstances trialled by the MPS, as required by human rights law. This means that the proportionality of the trials could not be fully evaluated.
  • There were numerous operational failures including: inconsistency in the adjudication process; a presumption to intervene; how the MPS engaged with individuals; difficulties in defining and obtaining consent of those affected. 

Further issues highlighted include: 

  • Across the six trials that were evaluated, the LFR technology made 42 matches – on only 8 of those can the authors say with absolute confidence the technology got it right.
  • The data that put someone on the ‘watchlist’ was not current – therefore people were stopped despite the fact that their case had already been addressed.
  • Reasons for putting people on the ‘watchlist’ were not clearly defined, and there was significant ambiguity over the categories of people the LFR trials intended to identify. 
  • The report finds these cannot be considered effective trials. The research methodology document prepared by the MPS focuses primarily on the technical aspects of the trials. There does not appear to be a clearly defined research plan that sets out how the test deployments are intended to satisfy the non-technical objectives, such as those relating to the use of LFR as a policing tool. This complicated the trial process and its purpose. 

For background, Professor Fussey is a leading criminologist specialising in surveillance and society, based in the Department of Sociology at the University of Essex. He is currently leading the new human rights, data and technology strand of the National Surveillance Camera Strategy. 

Dr Murray is a specialist in international human rights law, with a focus on the intersection between human rights and technology. He is based in the School of Law and Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences at Queen Mary University of London.  

The report can be accessed here.