back to article Who's watching you from an unmarked van while you shop in London? Cops with facial recog tech

London cops have been slammed for using unmarked vans to test controversial and inaccurate automated facial recognition technology on Christmas shoppers. The Metropolitan Police are deploying the tech today and tomorrow in three of the UK capital's tourist hotspots: Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square. The force has …

  1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Funding cuts lead to this

    Our "Strong and Stable" Conservatives have been cutting funding for the Police for years, there are fewer police on the streets so what do you expect will happen?

    The police force have a job to do and they are trying to do it with less money and fewer staff - that's our current policy isn't it?

    So which company is selling this technology to the cops? We're heading towards Privatization of the Police - after all it's worked so well for the Trains, the Post Office, Electricity and Water ... the people running those services are making lots of money.

    1. Mike Richards Silver badge

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      The future is somewhere between OCP and Facebook.

      1. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        The future is somewhere between OCP and Facebook IOI.

        ftfy.

      2. NoneSuch
        Thumb Up

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        @Mike Richards

        "The future is somewhere between OCP and Facebook."

        I'd buy that for a dollar...

    2. codejunky Silver badge

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      @Version 1.0

      "Our "Strong and Stable" Conservatives have been cutting funding for the Police for years, there are fewer police on the streets so what do you expect will happen?"

      I do take some issue with this. First didnt labour remove police powers to do pretty much anything but fine motorists and victims who defended themselves and their homes? Second didnt labour bring in the community officers or whatever to do the policemans foot patrol job without actually having any power?

      Anecdotal but for years I lived across from a pub which was regularly violent with rampant drug abuse and so on. At one point I was watching a woman taking a serious beating from a large guy and called for the police. None showed up, but then we didnt see much of the police there anyway (even in daylight was an odd sight). When the tories got in and started talking about making cuts suddenly not only did the police start patrolling the area but they also took down the cannabis farm a few doors down from the pub.

      The coincidental timing does make it seem that there was 'incentive' to actually do some police work instead of form filling and watching motorists.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        didnt labour remove police powers to do pretty much anything but fine motorists and victims who defended themselves

        I, for one, voted Conservative so that I could destroy, in defense of myself and my family, the vehicles that are responsible for shortening the lives of at least 38,000 people per year without fear of legal retribution.

        Mind you, I've got a bad case of buyer's remorse.

        1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          "I, for one, voted Conservative so that I could destroy, in defense of myself and my family, the vehicles that are responsible for shortening the lives of at least 38,000 people per year without fear of legal retribution."

          Could you explain how that was supposed to work? Where in their manifesto did they promise to remove all non-urea Diesels, and petrol cars more than about ten years old, from the roads?

          But then I notice the US spelling and wonder if you're a troll. We do not have "defense" in this country. Nor, since we do not have the concept of punitive damages, do we have legal retribution.

        2. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          >Mind you, I've got a bad case of buyer's remorse.

          You've owned VW diesel cars for many years new?

        3. Missing Semicolon Silver badge
          Boffin

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          Those a Guardian Alarmo-numbers, not real numbers.

          Even though most diesels don't meet the specs. the actual level of particulates and NOx have been falling year-on-year. Just not as fast as the limits.

          The actual figures show that the air in European cities has never been cleaner.

      2. overunder

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        It always comes back to a van. Want to stop big brother? Just outlaw vans.

        1. Ken 16 Silver badge

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          You might have hit on something -

          terrorist attacks : vans,

          cowboy builders : vans,

          racists : vans,

          sexists : vans

      3. Version 1.0 Silver badge

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        "Anecdotal but for years I lived across from a pub" - let me guess, you have no problems now - the pub has gone out of business ... along with half of the high street ... and you think the economy will just continue to get better with current political policy?

        1. codejunky Silver badge

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          @Version 1.0

          "let me guess, you have no problems now - the pub has gone out of business ... along with half of the high street ... and you think the economy will just continue to get better with current political policy?"

          Actually I moved away to a nicer area. The pub still exists and I assume it might still be going I dont know. It did change hands very regularly as someone stepped in, realised how bad it was and what little help from the police they would have and then leave (or in one case stabbed). They had one fantastic owner I wish could have kept the place, he would actually throw them out for the night if they kicked off (every night). The last one running the place I know of opened it whenever she felt like it but she was high as a kite, pregnant and one of the rowdy ones herself.

      4. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        "I was watching a woman taking a serious beating from a large guy and called for the police. None showed up"

        Late one night I heard a lot of noise outside and sneaked a look out of the bedroom window. Some guy was laying on the pavement screaming that he couldn't see. He was just laying there screaming in pain. He wasn't resisting arrest but two policemen were giving him a good kicking anyway after pepper spraying him. Another police car arrived and they bundled him into the back and took him away. From what I later found out, he'd just been let out of prison and gone to the local pub to celebrate his release and was peacefully walking home but the police (or some of them) had some sort of grudge against him. I've no idea what he'd been in prison for. Basically they ambushed him and beat twenty bells out of him and charged him with assault and resisting arrest. Maybe he "deserved" a good kicking; but I was shocked to see policemen behaving so badly.

        While I generally trust the police and would call them if I needed them, it does give me pause for concern that they may not always behave as I'd expect them to. I'd hate to get on the wrong side of a "Judge Dredd" type; no telling what could happen.

        Anon for obvious reasons.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/video-appears-to-show-psni-officers-leaving-incapacitated-woman-on-derry-road-30106830.html

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          I was shocked to see policemen behaving so badly.

          Don't be.

      5. steviebuk Silver badge

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        Even if Labour did the above. The conservatives, due to being in power, could reinstate the police numbers but they haven't. They've cut their funding even further.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Funding cuts lead to this

          "Even if Labour did the above. The conservatives, due to being in power, could reinstate the police numbers but they haven't. They've cut their funding even further."

          Because the last Labour government emptied the coffers buying off parts of the electorate, then got themselves unelected when people realised they couldn't meet all their spending commitments. The LibDem/Conservative Coalition got in and started cutting some of Liebour's pet policies until the LibDems realised they were (a) having to get off the fence and actually commit to unpopular decisions and (b)unable to play both sides of the street while actually in power.

          The Tories continued cutting all costs at all costs and are just starting to save a little in case of emergencies (such as the EU stitch-up they are laughingly calling 'Brexit' but is really 'Remain but without any say in how they shaft us') but the short-sighted swing voters will look around and, rather than realising that this is actually Blair's and Brown's legacy, blame the Tories again.

          Still, when Liebour get back in and ignore the result of the biggest vote in recent times (how many times did Tony Bliar promise a Referendum?) and keep us in the Federated States of Europe, at least their fraternal socialist brothers and sisters on the mainland will help us out.

          Like they did for the Greeks and the Spanish.

          1. sed gawk

            Re: Funding cuts lead to this

            Obvious Troll is obvious.

            Because the last Labour government emptied the coffers buying off parts of the electorate, then got themselves unelected when people realised they couldn't meet all their spending commitments.

            Bollocks - 2008 fiscal crash nothing to do with Labour.

            The LibDem/Conservative Coalition got in and started cutting some of Liebour's pet policies until the LibDems realised they were (a) having to get off the fence and actually commit to unpopular decisions and (b)unable to play both sides of the street while actually in power. More Bollocks.

            The libdems sold themselves to "call me dave", and were surprised that having lain with dogs, they arose with fleas.

            The Tories continued cutting all costs at all costs and are just starting to save a little in case of emergencies They savagely cut the tax base to the point were services are starting to collapse in a politically motivate assault on the poor and disabled. https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23881&LangID=E

            Still, when Liebour get back in Sorry - Tories - contempt of parliament, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-deal-latest-theresa-may-crisis-contempt-labour-conservative-parliament-government-a8665576.html home sec forced to resign after lies in the house of commons https://news.sky.com/story/home-secretary-amber-rudd-quits-over-claims-she-misled-parliament-11353254

            Fuck off back to the daily mail.

      6. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        >At one point I was watching a woman taking a serious beating from a large guy and called for the police.

        Tsk, tsk, my good fellow. People of our standing do not "call for the police." We instruct our butler to send for the local constable.

    3. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      Not here in Scotland where police numbers are actually rising and crime rates are also falling.

      It is only happening in England and Wales. You get what you vote for. We vote SNP/Green and see what we get.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        >Not here in Scotland.....we vote SNP/Green and see what we get.

        Technically, that would be a ConDem then ConDUP coalition and Brexit wouldn't it?

      2. Ken 16 Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: Funding cuts lead to this

        unfortunately, if you're Scottish, you also sometimes get what you didn't vote for, you get what the English voted for instead

    4. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      Downvoted presumably by people who haven't been following what is going on. The statistics on police numbers and crime rates are out there. Even the Mail and the Express have started to notice.

      "Great. Big Brother Watch claims tech had 100% fail rate since May"

      I think we could summarise that, given who has been in charge of the Home Office for many years, as "May has 100% fail rate since attempting to introduce tech."

    5. Marketing Hack Silver badge
      Stop

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      @Version 1.0

      This isn't about Conservatives or any other political party. You're forgetting Gordon Brown and Tony Blair's (Hmmm, can't say that I blame you about that, now that I think of it.) forays into mass surveillance. With their love for CCTV and license plate readers splooged all over Britain, you can only be thankful that facial recognition was not even ready for trial during the New Labour era. If you had come to them with this tech 12 years ago, they would have been on it like white on rice.

    6. Alan Johnson

      Re: Funding cuts lead to this

      Why would cuts lead to spending money on continuing trials of technology with this dismal a performance? Even if it accuracy by a factor of ten so its false positive rate was around 80% it is not clear it would reduce workload so much as increase it with a string of false positives or more likely consume money and simply be ignored.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't they informed consent

    to do this sort of thing ?

    1. martinusher Silver badge

      Re: Don't they informed consent

      No. In the US -- which is way ahead of the UK thanks to its Bill of Rights -- its recognized that fingerprints and physical features such as our faces are public domain. (Which is why you need to use a passcode for your phone -- the cops can't force you to divulge a passcode but they can forcibly put a finger against a fingerprint reader or show your face to a facial recognition system).

      1. localzuk

        Re: Don't they informed consent

        The US is not the UK, and it doesn't have the GDPR stuff to comply with.

        However, I'd hazard they'd try and claim the lawful basis as "public task", so wouldn't need consent.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Taking Back Control

    It's what we voted for!!!

    And let's face it [sic] this tech will get better the more it's used! Bonus!

    I, for one, always thought the paycops in Nigel Kneale's last Quatermass would come to pass.

    Just brought on by a different type of aliens, I guess.

  4. macjules Silver badge

    650 willing crowd subjects

    Can't they just test it out in the House of Commons? Likelihood amongst that lot is that at least one of them is currently wanted for questioning by the police and a number have failed to pay parking fines.

    1. jmch Silver badge
      Trollface

      Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

      "Can't they just test it out in the House of Commons? "

      Not a good test, because 100% of targets are criminals

      1. JohnMurray

        Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

        So that would be a 100% success rate then!!

        1. NLCSGRV

          Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

          "So that would be a 100% success rate then!!"

          That is what is known as a biased sample!

        2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

          Add a Taser or Shoot first, ask questions later policy for good measure. In the case of the latter, we may have to have some extra byelections to replace those MPs "eliminated from enquiries"

    2. alain williams Silver badge

      Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

      Add into that the faces of the top tier officers of all police forces in the UK -- that will ensure that full controls are put in place to prevent any abuse of the data collected, etc.

      1. Flywheel Silver badge
        Stop

        Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

        Please, no Dick pics!!

        1. The Nazz Silver badge

          Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

          re Flywheel

          IMO i know that Cressida is not photogenic but she's not THAT bad.

    3. CustardGannet
      Holmes

      Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

      As an alternative, they could test it on people attending the Oscars ceremony, and see how many matches they get to wanted sex offenders.

    4. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: 650 willing crowd subjects

      Because it has a record of 100% failing to match suspects.

      So by only feeding it images of innocent people, it will perfectly identify all the guilty ones - logical really.

      You can't test it in Westminster because there are no innocent people to use for the training set.

  5. I&I

    Not only “Big Brother”

    All sorts of “little brothers & sisters” too. Some gangs have huge budgets. Do we really want asymmetry? World doesn’t stand still.

  6. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Mushroom

    Practising?

    For the Brexit riots?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Brexit riots?

      Peterloo 2.00

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Brexit riots?

        >>Peterloo 2.00

        You mean Evil May Day 2.0

        1. Ken 16 Silver badge
          Paris Hilton

          Re: Brexit riots?

          May Day is at the end of March isn't it?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Practising?

      They're not Brexit riots, you can't blame Brexit for the riots.

      The riots are a combination of food riots, NHS riots, political extremists seeking to undermine democracy by asking for votes, looters and cannibal gangs. They may even be sponsored by Brussels. It would be worse under Labour.

  7. dogcatcher

    Guilty until proved innocent

    This is just an example of how much the police attitudes have changed over the years. They now employ a machine, which is programmed to assume that all people are guilty until found to be innocent, (or not found at all). I await with anticipation the first libel action against AI

    1. Cavanuk

      Re: Guilty until proved innocent

      "They now employ a machine, which is programmed to assume that all people are guilty until found to be innocent"

      Which is not even a close description of reality. The machine is simply identifying people or, as it is at the moment, not identifying people at all. Questions of guilt or innocence don't even arise.

  8. find users who cut cat tail

    False positives

    Close to 100% false positive rate is exactly what one should expect -- the watch lists do not contain a substantial fraction of the population (so far) and the people on them are more likely to take precautions.

    See base rate fallacy/false positive paradox (if any el Reg reader needs reminding). Even detection methods we actually consider working have high false positive rates when the thing they detect is rare.

    1. Alan Johnson

      Re: False positives

      OK but it still makes it worse than useless for what appears to be the intended purpose.

    2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: False positives

      "Even detection methods we actually consider working have high false positive rates when the thing they detect is rare."

      While I agree that simply having a high false positive rate is not an indicator of a bad test, from what statistics I've seen from facial recognition from the Met it indicates that the system is generally not making ANY true positives. From 80 hours of surveillance they identified two persons of interest, one of whom was not a suspect, the other had already been dealt with, but he hadn't been taken off the naughty list.

      So a grand total of ZERO actual criminals caught or crimes prevented.

      Compared to other surveillance techniques, it's awful. Even CCTV is better, and that's saying a lot. ANPR from an elevated camera (spotter plane) has about 40% false positives, mainly as it only gets partial data. But since you've got other factors (vehicle colour etc) you can detect them pretty quickly.

      Assume that it took at a minimum two sworn officers to man this. That's 80 hours that a pair of cops could have been on the beat, being visible etc. Which turns out actually reduces crime....

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Shopping as

    Guy Fawkes! Is that against the law yet? Posting Anon so I can use the Icon!

  10. Barrie Shepherd

    Big 'secret' Brother

    'Overtly' haha - unmarked vans, small signs, no proactive leafleting. The Police have learnt from the privacy invaders who run the ANPL cameras at shopping centre car parks!

    Why have the Times, Independent and Guardian not included cut out Teresa May masks with today's paper?

    This sort of tech has a place but not in the high street. By all means use it post event on recorded video to track suspects. Maybe very 'overtly' for 'at risk' public events - but not Jo public going around his normal daily business.

    Our complaints won't be heard however. The tech will get approval - wait for some Press Release along the lines of "Facial Recognition stops a terrorist attack in Oxford St." (but no real supporting evidence).

    The Tech will go into use by the police then, like mobile speed cameras, will be handed over to some PPP type organisation. They will then operate for the police. This will be justified as "freeing valuable police resources". The PPP operator will be on some detection target and will find ways to monetise it. How about a subscription service to warn shops when a known shoplifter has been 'detected' in the locality?

    Minority Report is just around the corner hand in hand with 1984.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Big 'secret' Brother

      The Tech ... will be handed over to some PPP type organisation.

      Sounds like a business opportunity for Facebook, then people will be voluntarily identifying themselves and friends...

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    caps on

    WHY IS THIS LEGAL IN A DEMOCRACY?

    ...

    and why am I being labelled "Russian troll" every time my democratic government (UK is or claims to be one, right?), through their arbitrary decisions, puts a camera up my arse without my permission, telling me it's for my own good? :/

    yeah, I suppose I know why, because it's EASY, and the plebs, aka the public, buy this shit. The Russians are behind everything these days, Brexit, Trump, general FUD, recently riots in France, invasion of Ukraine... well, ok, I grant you that, maybe NOT the invasion of Ukraine! ;)

    1. sed gawk

      Re: caps on

      Perhaps because, your every utterance drips with arse gravy

    2. Cavanuk

      Re: caps on

      Why should it be illegal in a democracy? It isn't recording you. You aren't in a private space. It's a machine that can quickly scan crowds for known faces, or will be, and then alerts police to the presence of said face.

    3. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: my democratic government (UK is or claims to be one, right?)

      The UK is technically a constitutional monarchy (but without a proper constitution) rather than a democracy.

  12. Barrie Shepherd

    ...following on

    (Sorry for typo in previous post - ANPL = APNR)

    So how long before we hear that the National ANPR camera network is to be upgraded to include facial recognition?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ...following on

      So how long before we hear that the National ANPR camera network is to be upgraded to include facial recognition?

      Consider that Moore's Law has not been retired. Transistor density may have peaked, but through technology, processing power in instructions per second continues to rise at a similar rate to the good old days.

      So I'd guess about 4 years before a typical ANPR camera is both capable of the necessary real world resolution, and linked to a facial recognition algo. But why do you think that facial recognition will be needed? The trend has been to cut out the "justice" element, and simply prosecute the easily prosecutable. As an example, if your car infringes a bus lane, the registered keeper cops the penalty. No worries about who was driving, no siree, A crime is committed, a motorist is fined. Job done.

      So why bother with facial recognition? The whole point of modern law enforcement is not finding and reforming criminals, but simply ticking off a KPI for "offences detected and solved"?

      1. Gonzo wizard

        Re: ...following on

        Except that it isn't a crime, there's no criminal record, no points, no need to declare even when renewing car insurance. It's a civil penalty, or, in layman's terms, a stealth tax.

        In four years I've paid up once for doing a U-turn where one wasn't permitted (I thought I'd left the no U turn zone) and once for straying into the last few feet of a bus lane. My bad.

        1. ICPurvis47
          Devil

          Re: ...following on

          I was fined for entering a bus lane in Coventry. I came in from the ring road, following the large orange signs to one of the multi-storey car parks. The sign directed me to turn right, and after I had done so, I passed a small blue text on white background sign that said "Busses Only". I didn't see that sign as I was concentrating on finding the entrance to the car park. After I received the summons several days later, I revisited the scene, and only then did I find the small sign, attached to a lamp post. I took photos and video, but the council refused to accept my defence, and fined me £30. I wonder how many other innocent drivers, unfamiliar with the area and following the orange signs, have been stung in this way. Nice little earner for Coventry City Council, my advice is to steer clear.

  13. bencurthoys

    The False Positive Rate is NOT 98%

    I find it a bit upsetting that this totally wrong statistic keep being repeated by news sites I expect better of (the Register, Boing Boing).

    Suppose you had a cancer detector such that, if you tested 100 people who did not have had cancer, it says “NO CANCER” to 99 of them, and “CANCER” in error to 1 of them. You would say that it had a false positive rate of 1%. You'd think it was working pretty well.

    And if when you tested 100 people who did have cancer and it said “CANCER” to 99 of them and “NO CANCER” to 1 of them, you would call that a false negative rate of 1%. And that's not bad either.

    If you then tested a population of 10000 people, 9900 of which did not have cancer and 100 of which did, you would expect there to be 99 false positives (1% of 9900) and 99 real positives (99% of 100). 198 positive results of which 99 are accurate and 99 are wrong.

    So 50% of the people the test says have cancer, don't. If the test says that you have cancer, you've a 50/50 chance of actually being fine. This is NOT because there's anything wrong with the test: as we saw, the test gets it right 99 times out of 100. The false positive rate is only 1%. It's because you're using the test on a population with a very low "base rate". This is the base rate fallacy: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Base_rate_fallacy

    What these headlines have done is the equivalent of taking these stats - the output of a system with a 1% false positive rate and 1% false negative rate - and saying “Oh, there are 99 false positives and 99 real positives, so the false positive rate is 50%”. Which is stupid.

    If you had such a system - which is 99% accurate - would you decide that it's useless and throw it away, just because a positive result on a population with a low base rate doesn't necessarily mean that you've found what you're looking for? Or perhaps, if you weren't a total fucking moron, you might use it as a tool on populations that you already suspect of having higher base rate - perhaps in our analogy testing people who have shown symptoms rather than screening the population at large - whilst understanding its limitations.

    Back to the plot. The police could usefully and sensibly use this to look for 1 person in particular in a small to medium crowd they already expect them to be in. If the person they are looking for is not in that crowd, then they might get some positive results, but obviously the ratio of "false positive" to "true positive" results is infinite, because there are no true positives, because the person isn't there. Still doesn't make it worthless.

    By all means object on the grounds of civil liberties. By all means say that the police shouldn't be allowed to use this technology, and should just stick with super-recognisers in front of cctv screens. But don't bang on repeating the same nonsense about the "98% false positive rate" because you're too lazy to understand how it works.

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Re: The False Positive Rate is NOT 98%

      The data we have so far supports the idea that it simply doesn't find anyone at all.

      It's reasonable to assume that at least some of the people they hoped to detect were present, because the trial was done in secret and they must have believed it likely that those people would turn up or there would be no point it doing the trial at all.

      Thus the false detection rate is likely to be extremely high.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The False Positive Rate is NOT 98%

      If however you discovered the 99% false positive rate wasn't because only one in a million are criminals - but was in fact because it had only been trained on images of black suspects - you might recast the statistics a little.

    3. localzuk

      Re: The False Positive Rate is NOT 98%

      If a system returns false positives 100% of the time, then that's a 100% false positive rate.

      It is 100% positively useless.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    China

    Well better this than the Chinese solution...

    After seeing their Social Credit System at work why are we not damming them for it?

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: China

      Classic whataboutery scenes, Jeff.

  15. Flywheel Silver badge

    It won't be about results at this stage

    Dick said earlier this year that she didn't think it would result in lots of arrests

    No, but it'll collect a helluva lot of useful facial data for various state-sponsored AI systems to practice on, so imagine if they compared the images with say the Passport Office database, or maybe TFL cameras? If Joe Bloggs was a regular tube user and they captured his image via one of these vans they could easily judge the accuracy.

  16. Voland's right hand Silver badge

    Who cares about the "instant recognition rate"?

    I have said it before, I will say it again.

    The goal of biometric recognition tech is not to recognize you instantly the moment you pass the camera and call the Black Helicopters. This is done purely for testing, evaluation and ML training purposes. The instant recognition rate is largely irrelevant as it is not how this is intended to be used.

    The real goals are "track until recognized", "track back from the point of recognition" and "track back until reaching a point of recognition".

    A good example of its results is the Salisbury Tourism event. You do not think they went through all those CCTV videos purely by hand, do you?

    This is happening everywhere around the world too. China has been running face recog and tracking by BR for a few years now. Korea is not far behind, ditto for Singapore and other usual suspects. Several of the host cities for the world cup (including Moscow) deployed it everywhere on the subways and public transport. There are some pretty good stats from that by the way, because the Moscow mayor has been running around with the results in hand trying to convince the powers that be for more money to make the deployment cover all municipal CCTV.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Who cares about the "instant recognition rate"?

      "The real goals are "track until recognized", "track back from the point of recognition" and "track back until reaching a point of recognition"."

      How is that any better?

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Who cares about the "instant recognition rate"?

        How is that any better?

        It is not a question of "better".

        Completely different use case. For tracking you select a person (or tell it to do it for every person in a zone) and it tracks it. This requires recognizing "current" clothing, walking, luggage (f.e. backpack), etc and gradually improving the model while using different sources until it reaches a GOOD frame which it can match to a person recognition criteria. Going back to the Salisbury Tourism example that would be a series of high quality frames from the Gatwick turn-style. Close-up. Picture-perfect. High resolution. With near perfect lighting(*).

        Compare that to instant recognition. You feed it crap (excuse me for the engineering term) from a camera in a van on the street looking at people from an arbitrary angle and you expect perfect rate. Really?

        You get similar quality pictures from plenty of other places by the way - paypoints, cash machines, entrances and exits.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: Who cares about the "instant recognition rate"?

      "China has been running face recog and tracking by BR for a few years now. Korea is not far behind, ditto for Singapore and other usual suspects."

      I wouldn't want my part of the world to resemble those.

      1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: Who cares about the "instant recognition rate"?

        I wouldn't want my part of the world to resemble those.

        I suspect it already does. I smell the Snowdens of the yesteryear here.

  17. SVV Silver badge

    100% failure rate since May

    Which will probably still be true once she's gone (ho ho ho , merry Xmas everybody).

    Seeing as the kit was tested in 3 very closely situated West End hellholes, it's no surprise that nobody with their mugshot in their databases happened to walk by the vans on those particular days. However, the fact that it DID match people and they were all wrong is troubling, and will of course not be considered a sufficiently good reason to give up on it, when the hope of magical tech solutions is much greater than calm assessment of reality.

  18. Paul Herber

    FAcial Recognition Technology = FART

  19. The Nazz Silver badge

    Tp paraphrase John Lennon

    Happy Christmas, crime is over.

    Yeah, dream on.

    Wouldn't be so bad if the BBC didn't glamourise part of it in pursuing their agenda.

  20. SkippyBing Silver badge

    One simple trick to avoid being photographed

    Shop online like any sane person this time of year. Most places will even wrap it for you which saves a massive faff on Christmas Day.

    1. JohnFen Silver badge

      Re: One simple trick to avoid being photographed

      What does that get you? You're going to get tracked either way, after all.

      1. SkippyBing Silver badge

        Re: One simple trick to avoid being photographed

        Are you saying you get the stuff delivered to your house and pay using your own credit card?

  21. TRT Silver badge

    So it's time...

    to put up "Lost" posters all over London. With photos from their most wanted list.

  22. N2 Silver badge

    Crapita?

    100% fail rate since May

    The only company acpable of returning such an excellent performance of 100% fail.

  23. Cynic_999 Silver badge

    Wasting police time

    The police claim not to have the resources to investigate real crimes that are reported, so how the heck they have the time to go looking for criminals when there have been no complaints of a crime is a bit of a mystery.

    Not to mention all the man-hours the police will waste chasing up the false positives, which will obviously result in less resources being available to investigate burglaries & assaults etc.

    1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      Re: Wasting police time

      " so how the heck they have the time to go looking for criminals when there have been no complaints of a crime"

      Because the role of the police is shifting/has shifted from protection of the public and investigaton of crimes to prevention of crime and monitoring of the public in pursuit of that. Of course, this is only nominally the excuse, the truth is that the police are now an instrument of social control and are only maintained sufficiently to present a veneer of law enforcement.

      If you want to know how "law and order" are evolving in the UK, take a long, hard look at the nature, history and remit of the NCA (National Crime Agency).

      Say hello to the secret police.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wasting police time

        They're looking for Julian Assange!

  24. mark l 2 Silver badge

    It looks it might be a good time to invest in some eye glasses or a cap with some IR LEDs built in to stop the facial recognition cameras being able to track you. Like the cinemas have to stop people using camera to record the films off the screen.

    1. cosymart
      FAIL

      Tracking who?

      @ mark 12

      "It looks it might be a good time to invest in some eye glasses or a cap with some IR LEDs built in to stop the facial recognition cameras being able to track you. Like the cinemas have to stop people using camera to record the films off the screen"

      That sounds like a really good way to avoid standing out in a crowd especially if the cameras in question also work in IR range.

    2. JohnFen Silver badge

      "Like the cinemas have to stop people using camera to record the films off the screen."

      Those systems don't interfere with the actual recording, they just let the theater spot people who are doing it, so they can be kicked out.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Like the cinemas have to stop people using camera to record the films off the screen."

        Those systems don't interfere with the actual recording, they just let the theater spot people who are doing it, so they can be kicked out.

        How so? Cameras don't tend to emit IR light, but digital cameras can easily be blinded by IR light if it's pointed at them and of sufficient strength.

        1. JohnFen Silver badge

          CCDs reflects IR light in a distinctive way, and so they can be spotted by looking for those reflections. This isn't 100%. These systems can degrade the image that the cameras record, but it certainly doesn't blind them.

          "digital cameras can easily be blinded by IR light if it's pointed at them and of sufficient strength."

          Yes, if the IR light is both very intense and aimed at the camera. It's not really "easy" if you're trying to blind an entire theater.

  25. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    If they were looking for a bloke with a long white beard and a red coat...

    They were looking in the wrong places. Try these:-

    https://www.timeout.com/london/kids/activities/santas-grottos-in-london

  26. SloppyJesse

    It's not about accuracy

    They're not testing the system for accuracy, they're testing if they can get away with using this kind of system.

  27. martinusher Silver badge

    Let's face it, the problem is that this stuff will work....

    ...if not now, eventually. Everyone in the tech community knows that it is only a matter of time before it becomes like ANPR.

    And talking of ANPR, here's a cautionary tale. Back in the old days the UK registration plates -- the yellow and black ones -- were designed to be machine readable by the technology of that era. ANPR became reliable and then ubiqutous. Meanwhile we in the US carried on our lives smug in the knowledge that the varied formats of our plates and certain legal technicalities about automatic law enforcement would insulate us from this rather intrusive Big Brother-ism. Unfortunately, technology has a habit of improving over time so having a custom license plate doesn't insulate you from ANPR any more (and for the legal stuff -- well, "we have lawyers for that"). Its no coincidence that law enforcement has, after many years, shown a sudden interest in making sure everyone's front plate is readable (many people never bothered with the things since they never fit and had a tendency to fall off). Anyway, since the technology is also quite adept at seeing into cars, even at night, its not too much of a stretch to think they facial recognition is in use as well.

    Incidentally, if anyone's seen video from a 'near infrared' camera then they'll understand what true surveillance is like. Traditional IR gives you blobby pictures like an old-fashioned radar image. Near IR gives you high resolution video even under starlight conditions; the wavelengths are unaffected by moisture so clouds and fog have no effect on the image. Its probably not too well known because I'd guess its primarily used by the military at the moment but these things have a habit of permeating to the civilian/law enforcement sector.

  28. spold Bronze badge

    Learn your Alphabet

    F**K anybody would think you were living in a Sidewalk Labs community!

    https://www.businessinsider.com/google-sidewalk-labs-toronto-neighborhood-2018-7

    ...and in terms of privacy https://sidewalktoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Sidewalk-Toronto-Privacy-Policy.pdf

    Since page 2 says "We do not disclose your personal information to third parties unless

    we have your consent or we are required by law"....

    this would come under "required by law".

    Just put the policy up in size 10 font on one of the Piccadilly displays... by entering this area you consent to...

    Get your privacy facial recognition camo t-shirt now.

    I have one - came with a free tinfoil hat. Based on this pattern...

    https://www.seeker.com/anti-surveillance-camo-hides-you-from-face-recognition-tech-2187247707.html

    Welcome to the neighborhood!

  29. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Police commissioner Cressida Dick said

    earlier this year that she didn't think it would result in lots of arrests of criminals.

    TFTFY

  30. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Holmes

    Taylor Swift Concerts

    May be we will see Met Police Officers going over to the States to attend Taylor Swift concerts to observe the use of facial recognition technology...

    https://www.theregister.co.uk/2018/12/13/taylor_swift_facial_recognition/

  31. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    FAIL

    Farcical Recognition Technology

    FacialFarcical Recognition Technology

    relating to or resembling farce, especially because of absurd or ridiculous aspects.

    synonyms: ridiculous, preposterous, ludicrous, absurd, laughable, risible, nonsensical;

    more

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Test my arse!

    It's just some plods in a van perving at women.

    1. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

      Re: Test my arse!

      If it fails on putting a name to a face, I very much doubt it would recognise you from your arse.

  33. dank_army

    Before reaching the Twitter post in the article I was expecting to see a white van with "acme laundry co." written on the side - not a huge green van with latest camera tech stuck on top like a fucking fairy on a Christmas tree.

    1. Teiwaz Silver badge

      not a huge green van with latest camera tech stuck on top like a fucking fairy on a Christmas tree

      I'd not be surprised if there was not a rise in TV licence applications in the locality with such a van parked there for long enough.

      There'd be no point going to too much effort at concealment when the local wildlife have less sense of being wary than the large bird species that used to live on Mauritius.

      I expect not a fair few specimens are queued up hoping to get an interview for the next Big Brother.

      1. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

        "I'd not be surprised if there was not a rise in TV licence applications in the locality with such a van parked there for long enough."

        Chances are good that the old style TV detector van was a myth, despite the adverts claiming elsewise, and never actually worked/were operated.

        It appears, however, that in the age of smart TVs, the idea is making a comeback. Interesting implications; that a private company can consider wifi sniffing and suchlike without reference to GDPR or the DPA, eh?

        https://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/08/06/bbc_detector_van_wi_fi_iplayer/

  34. Derezed
    Big Brother

    Posters?

    So apparently we have posters already printed...

    I suggest placing them on each landing, opposite lift-shafts. The idea I have has an enormous face that will gaze from the wall. It must be one of those pictures which are so contrived that the eyes follow you about when you move. If only I could think of a suitable caption.

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Posters?

      Something suitably large and fraternal, but I can't think of anything specific.

  35. Sanguma

    Pooper scooper beams are gonna find me

    I'm surprised at the tepid British response to this. This is a godsend for some comedian or comediene ... prowling through London streets armed with a camera, taking photos of the vans and the inhabitants when they take a break to grab some grub or relieve themselves.

    Then Youtube hosting dozens of pictures of cops in unmarked vans, with the explanation - "I tested these photos with my Faecal Recognition software, and it correctly identified these piles of sh*t ..."

    Where's Alexei Sayle when you need him!?!?

    1. Roj Blake Silver badge

      Re: Pooper scooper beams are gonna find me

      I believe a new series of his Imaginary Sandwich Bar will be out soon.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Pooper scooper beams are gonna find me

      "Where's Alexei Sayle when you need him!?!?"

      Mark Thomas is your man... 'Mark Thomas: My Life In Serious Organised Crime. Mark Thomas's campaign against the Serious Organised Crime and Policing Act that requires anyone wishing to protest around the Houses of Parliament to obtain a police permit. Thomas has done exactly that; hundreds and hundreds of times. [BBC R4/R4extra]'

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like anybody needs a(nother) reason not to shop in London

    Though, since being monitored by wall to wall CCTV 24/7 doesn't seem to bother the public, maybe Cressida (De Menezes) Dick doesn't see a problem in more open prison surveillance...

  37. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    imagine this

    Not just linked to to motorway traffic cams , but to every camera everywhere..all 128000 of them UK.

    Imagine a boot stampig on your face, forever.

    (I know a subset of readers will find this intensely thrilling, but for the majority ....)

  38. Portent
    Trollface

    Business opportunity

    I'm gonna make a fortune selling balaclavas :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Business opportunity

      Yeah, that's probably illegal.

      In fact you may be shocked to learn that the UK used to execute people for it.

      But hey, British justice, best in the world. Right? Right.

  39. Daedalus Silver badge

    Clash by night.

    just days before the winter solstice

    Actually you'll find that sunset got as early as it can on or around Dec 15. Sunrise will keep on getting later into early January. Just one of those Earth-in-its-orbit things. Dec 20-21 is still the shortest actual stretch of daylight, but our clocks don't do solar time.

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