back to article London's Met police confess: We made just one successful collar in latest facial recog trial

London cops' use of facial recognition tech last week resulted in only one person being charged, while another was handed a £90 on-the-spot fine after trying to avoid the cams. London, UK - March, 2018. Police officers patrolling Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus in central London. Pic Paolo Paradiso / Shutterstock.com …

  1. David 155

    London

    Romford is in London, not Essex.

    1. Steve Button

      Re: London

      yeah, but only since about 1963. Which is before the internet was really a thing, so how are The Reg supposed to know that.

      1. Test Man

        Re: London

        Ha, that old outer-London-doesn't-count-as-being-in-London thing that over 40s always seem to go on about, even though a lot of them weren't even born when it was shifted into London in 1965.

        Note: I'm 41.

        Also see: Croydon (London, not Surrey), nearly every single East London town (London not Essex!), and Middlesex (no such place - well for the last 59 years!)

        Also also see: postcode wars (no, there's no such thing as a London postcode/postal district!)

        1. ThatOne Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: London

          > Middlesex (no such place [...])

          Yes, there was even a whole Register article about that: https://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/22/garlic_survey/

    2. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: London

      Tell that to the post office.

    3. phuzz Silver badge

      Re: London

      As far as I'm concerned, everything inside the M25 is London.

  2. Korev Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Bodycam?

    The Met's account of the event was that the man "was seen acting suspiciously" and "became aggressive and made threats" to officers after they stopped him. "He was issued with a penalty notice for disorder as a result."

    A bitter irony would be that if the cop had a bodycam then it would be very easy to see who's correct....

    1. Robert Helpmann?? Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Bodycam?

      "Acting suspiciously" is a wonderfully versatile phrase that can be used to harass or detain pretty much anyone within sight as it would seem to rely entirely on the judgement of the officer assessing the situation. No-one is above suspicion although some are more worthy of it than others.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bodycam?

      £90 will not cover the money this mans lawyer will probably extract from the Met if that goes against them. They may have just given cause to action to their own Max Schrems.

  3. tmTM

    Funding??

    Where is the money coming from to pay for all this??

    I hope it's central government and not the police force budget.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Funding??

      The commissioner's pay would be a good start. And anybody else who signed off on it.

  4. Gonzo wizard
    FAIL

    Facts - we've heard of them...

    "the Met's Ivan Balhatchet said in a statement that the 'use of the equipment at Romford Town Centre resulted in several arrests for violent offences'.

    There's a man with an eye on political office - he'll be right at home with misrepresentation like that. Add into the mix the poorly signposted trial in central London and they're not exactly covering themselves in glory. Starting to feel to me like they are going through the motions before announcing that the trial is a "huge success" and the tech is to be rolled out forthwith. What could possibly go wrong?

    Incidentally if I walk around for four months of the year with a scarf covering most of my face, does this leave me open to being fined if I wander through a trial? Was this person simply provoked into a reaction that permitted a barely credible arrest as a 'message'. No scratch that second question, I think I know the answer.

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: Facts - we've heard of them...

      Incidentally if I walk around for four months of the year with a scarf covering most of my face, does this leave me open to being fined

      No, but they'll be happy to put you on a terrorist watch list instead.

    2. Christoph Silver badge

      Re: Facts - we've heard of them...

      "Was this person simply provoked into a reaction that permitted a barely credible arrest as a 'message'. "

      The police are well practised at deliberately provoking people into a reaction which they can then twist into an 'offence'.

    3. David 132 Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Facts - we've heard of them...

      ”There's a man with an eye on political office”

      His name certainly lends itself to slogans... “Cut out the bollocks, Vote Balhatchet”

  5. Steve Button

    *just* one successful arrest?

    How many arrests would you like to make this trial a success, when they have only used it for a small part of one day!?

    I mean, one arrest is a good thing, isn't it?

    Or am I missing the point? Are The Reg, and most of your readers, just against the use of this kind of tech per se, or are they suggesting better ways for how it could be tested?

    Please be more clear and tell me what to think, as I can't work it out for myself.

    Thumbs down button

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    1. DavCrav Silver badge

      Re: *just* one successful arrest?

      "Or am I missing the point?"

      No, you aren't. That one wanted man (in fact more than one by the sounds of it, as the 15-year old alleged burglar was also caught, even if he was then released) walked past and was apprehended is already surprising. And the trouble is, we don't know how many wanted men walked past the camera without it noticing, but it cannot be that many: there aren't that many wanted men.

      So I'd have said that the facial recognition technology seems to work. Now you just need to sort out the stuff around it (for example, regulations, making sure the database is up to date, not fining people who cover their faces, etc.).

      1. Remy Redert

        Re: *just* one successful arrest?

        The real question is how many people did the system flag as being wanted when they weren't? If the false positive rate is very low, then a high false negative rate can be forgiven in a system like this. If the false positive rate is high, it's worse than worthless.

        1. DavCrav Silver badge

          Re: *just* one successful arrest?

          "The real question is how many people did the system flag as being wanted when they weren't? If the false positive rate is very low, then a high false negative rate can be forgiven in a system like this. If the false positive rate is high, it's worse than worthless."

          A high false positive rate doesn't make it worthless at all. 50 to 1 is pretty fine. It means one guy is sitting at the computer: it flashes up a mugshot and a surveillance picture 50 times saying 'Are these the same person?' A hell of a lot better than the current method, which is showing pictures of known criminals around back at the nick and trying to get cops to remember what they look like.

          1. Gonzo wizard

            Re: *just* one successful arrest?

            Even a low percentage of false positives - at scale - make any system like this unusable; too much manual effort is required to verify and reject them. And you're going to piss off a whole lot of people.

            Also: imagine being stopped by the police without having a 'good' piece of ID like a driving licence in your possession. How long will it take for you to prove to them who you are? All because a computer thinks that you look like a wanted criminal. Feels a lot like guilty until proven innocent to me. A lot.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: *just* one successful arrest?

            "A high false positive rate doesn't make it worthless at all"

            Yes, it does.

            A technology which causes police harrassment of 49 innocents for the arrest of one wanted individual is a class action suit and mass payouts waiting to happen.

            This is NOT a police state. Policing is by consent - and taking steps to move to a model where the population get pissed off with the cops is counterproductive.

      2. Jimmy2Cows

        Re: *just* one successful arrest?

        A couple of true positives doesn't make up for the mountain of false positives, if the claimed 98% false positive rate is to be belived.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: *just* one successful arrest?

        "we don't know how many wanted men walked past the camera without it noticing, but it cannot be that many: there aren't that many wanted men"

        "Sorry, Sarge, the detector's going mad and flagging everyone"... "Well this is Romford"...

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: *just* one successful arrest?

      "Or am I missing the point?"

      One point you're missing is that money wasted on this hasn't been spent more productively and even legally elsewhere.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: *just* one successful arrest?

      > I mean, one arrest is a good thing, isn't it? Or am I missing the point?

      Yes and no - to both questions.

      There were three arrests but two were false positives. Or maybe, in the case of the youth, the system simply highlighted inadequate information sharing by police: he was deemed no longer worthy of arrest but that information was not passed onto those running the trial.

      Darren Scott: it would be interesting to know what attempts *if any* had been made to arrest him previously. If he'd evaded numerous previous attempts then this trial might have merit. If the police had made one half-hearted previous attempt, turning up at his house semi-randomly because they happened to have an officer free and in the area at the time, then maybe proceeding to a system whereby every person is subject to face recognition 24 hours a day is a bit over the top.

      Lastly the ridiculous over-reaction to a bloke covering his face with his jacket. Just ignore him - it's a trial, not a live system - and such reactions are part of the trial data.

  6. Aladdin Sane Silver badge

    1984 is a warning, not a fucking instruction manual.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      1984 is a warning, not a fucking instruction manual.

      Yeah, I also thought the sex scenes could have been improved. :-)

  7. David Nash Silver badge

    Given that there were apparently signs indicating the use of this equipment, and publicity beforehand, I am surprised that anyone on a watchlist (assuming they know that the police are after them) walked past the cameras at all.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Apparently the signs were being watched by the cameras in at least one location

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What if that fella had been wearing a burqa?

    1. Test Man

      *burka

      I'm surprised that the police seem to think that it's illegal to cover your face in public. It isn't!

      1. Jimmy2Cows

        No but it ruins their trial so is a flimsy premise to arrest someone "on suspicion of X", wind them up so they raise their voice a tiny bit, then fine them for public order.

        Lack of illegality has never stopped the cops before. Certainly won't now. It's all about sending a message.

  9. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    Fined for covering your face?

    Isn't that going to cause difficulties for lady followers of Judaism# and motorcyclists ?

    Of course the police will be culturally sensitive on this matter - I'm sure they aren't going to go all Jeremy Clarkson on bikers.

    (Christianity is presumably Judaism++ so the next release should be J#)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Fined for covering your face?

      (Christianity is presumably Judaism++ so the next release should be J#)

      Try that with the subsequent religion and see how far your humour gets you....

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Fined for covering your face?

        I would be more worried abut people making movies taking the piss out of Thor and Loki

        While Thor could be said to be a little over enthusiastic at times, Loki can be a right bastard

        1. m0rt Silver badge

          Re: Fined for covering your face?

          Wait till you meet their sister....

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Join the Insane Clown Posse

    So will we now see clowns arrested because their makeup defeats the AI?

    1. GnuTzu Bronze badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Join the Insane Clown Posse

      And then, will we see some of the new wave makeup styles from the 80's, or might we see some David Bowie styles and others from glam rock? What about cosplay?

  11. Scott Broukell
    Meh

    Those individuals located through AFR were also interested in; Car theft, Theft from a vehicle, Non payment of court fines and Wearing a loud shirt in a built up area.

  12. Duffaboy
    Joke

    A police spokesman said

    Damn those Pesky Guy Fawkes masks.

    1. TimMaher

      Re: A police spokesman said

      And you can buy pixelated masks all over t’internet. Not expensive either. Haven’t tested one myself... yet.

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: A police spokesman said

        >you can buy pixelated masks all over t’internet.

        Or QR codes that redirect to goats.cx

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A police spokesman said

      Definitely need to have a few hundred of these on a vending cart for the next trial.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A police spokesman said

        Vending Machine? What shall we call that - a tailored, swift arrest?

  13. A Non e-mouse Silver badge
    Flame

    Statistics

    To truly evaluate the effectiveness of the facial recognition tech you need several pieces of information:

    - How many people were innocent and flagged as not wanted.

    - How many people where innocent yet flagged as wanted.

    - How many people were wanted and flagged as wanted.

    - How many people were wanted but not flagged as wanted

    I grant that the final figure is really hard to get, but if it's a trial you should be able to measure all of these to a reasonable degree of accuracy so you can make a meaningful evaluation. If you take it even further, you could look at the amount of police time running the trial and compare it to other methods of finding people of interest. Is having a plod or two or three sitting around all day and make just one arrest a really good use of police resources?

    But around here, we know what the public sector is like for undertaking honest & meaningful statistical analysis.

    1. Shooter

      Re: Statistics

      Additionally, two other relevant pieces of information needed:

      - How many people were in the operational area at the time of the test

      - What percentage of the people in the operational area actually passed by the camera(s)

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Statistics

      "- How many people were wanted but not flagged as wanted"

      You could set up a trial in a prison and see just how many of the inmates are correctly identified. They all have mugshots on file and are already convicted.

    3. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: Statistics

      Romford Station has about 24,000 entries and exits per day. That would be about 12,000 unique individuals. There would also be people walking past the station who don't use the train service.

      One or two people were recorded on the system as wanted and flagged as wanted, of which one wasn't actually wanted. That is an error in the records fed to the system, not the facial recognition thing.

      98% false positive rate, so about 98 people flagged as wanted and not actually wanted, plus the one above that was incorrectly recorded as wanted.

      We have no way of knowing how many wanted people it missed.

  14. Lee D Silver badge

    So.. it would actually be equally effective to put up a fake van and fake camera, avoid all the privacy issues entirely, put up a sign, and watch for people trying to avoid the cameras.

    There's a phrase for that, I believe, and it's often used in medical trials. "No more effective than placebo."

    Though I have no doubt that the guy trying to cover his face kicked off and thus gave police an excuse to arrest him, I would question why he was approached just for covering his face in the first place, and whether he would have avoided being stopped any longer than strictly necessary and/or being subject to facial recognition if he'd been polite.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Since when is hiding your face to avoid cameras "acting suspiciously"? We are all entitled to be as visible or as invisible as we like in public places, just like we are all allowed to take photos in public places. If I am a private person and don't want to be photographed in public, I cannot stop the photographer taking the photo. But I am certainly entitled to hide my face. It is no different if it is the police taking the photo -- maybe even more so as it is very likely to be much longer lived.

      If that was what he was doing, the police had no reason to stop the man. That is the big result from this trial, which must become an important issue in any subsequent analysis of the results: a man was stopped by the police for no reason and questioned. That must not be allowed. There should be no concept of "longer than strictly necessary" -- hiding from the cameras must not be a reason to stop anyone.

      1. Lee D Silver badge

        "Since when is hiding your face to avoid cameras "acting suspiciously"?"

        Since turning and walking when you see a police officer, or running when they shout Stop, or any of a myriad actions (even getting tetchy/sweaty when they do stop you).

        It doesn't take a genius to draw an analogy there.

        The question is:

        - If they are acting suspiciously, are you allowed to stop them on that basis alone. Answer: Yes. Otherwise police work is literally entirely "witnessed crimes" and nothing else.

        - If you stop them, are you allowed to hinder them longer than necessary to ascertain their identity, purpose, etc.? Answer: No. Never have been.

        - If you stop them and they kick off and breach the peace, can you arrest them? Answer: Yes.

        - If they don't, can you arrest them? Only if you have reasonable suspicion that they have committed a crime. Which means that, without anything more than their identity, you have to hope something pops up on the computer? Or that they have a knife or something in their pocket. Then you can arrest them, otherwise no.

        Police have the right to stop, search and ascertain your identity. They need almost ZERO reason to do that. It's been clear-cut in just about every developed country for decades, if not centuries. They can't unduly inconvenience you, they can't arrest you for no reason (even "suspicion" for an arrest requires an actual reasonable suspicion with corroborating evidence and a suspicion of a specific charge - e.g. suspicion of burglary of a particular location on a particular date, etc.)

        To stop is not to arrest.

        To arrest is not to charge.

        To charge is not to convict.

        They have every reason to stop the man, under the law, for literally anything they like. Whether you agree with that or not, you're several hundred years of the relevant legislation too late. What they can't do is arrest him for the sake of it. The fact they arrested him means that he kicked off and dropped himself in it.

        If a police officer stops you, you don't have to co-operate more than the legally required minimum (identify yourself, maybe co-operate with a search if requested). But equally you don't have to get yourself arrested either.

        "Certainly, officer, am I under arrest?"

        "Okay, sure, I just don't want to be on camera. No particular reason."

        "Absolutely, I'm X and here's my ID to prove it and/or I will provide proof of ID at a police station and/or here's a contact number for my employer and they can identify me if you wish."

        "Okay, so am I under arrest?"

        "I understand, but I'm in a rush, am I allowed to leave?"

        Being dickish about it gets you arrested anyway. Being polite about it raises alarm bells along the lines of "Is this guy a lawyer and am I gonna end up with a charge of false arrest if I reply once wrongly to his questions?"

        Now, some people go *too far* and say you shouldn't speak anything but your name, etc. but I think that will raise more suspicion than anything else.

        P.S. The police can arrest anyone they like. Literally anyone. So long as they have reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed. They can arrest you, take you to the station, question you, etc. etc. etc. And arrest is "to stop" someone and ascertain more facts about the situation. They can then de-arrest you. You would be hard-pushed, if arrested and later de-arrested without charge, to claim that they *hadn't* got reasonable grounds because they won't really arrest you without reason. But they can do it. They literally have the right to do that. Whether or not their "reasonable grounds" are actually reasonable or not is a case for a lawyer, not an armchair rebel, and occurs after the arrest/de-arrest.

        Hence, it's really stupid to push them to anywhere near something they can arrest you for, even on the slightest and most dubious of potential charges.

        You can be arrested and de-arrested in the street. False arrest is only if they didn't have reasonable grounds upon which to do that. The bar is quite low on what's reasonable. Always has been.

        The alternative is that police literally can't then arrest someone walking a few streets away from a burglary with an arm-full of DVD players because "no suspect description matched him" and stuff like that (an exaggeration but not by much).

        If you don't understand this, I hope you never get stopped, because you could quickly end up being arrested.

        If you do understand this, it doesn't *guarantee* that you won't get arrested, but it does pretty much guarantee that you can't be charged (like this idiot) except for things you actually have done.

        Be nice to your police. Not because "they'll nick you if not". Because their job is hard enough without twats making it more difficult anyway. And every time I've ever been stopped, spoken to, pulled over, etc. by one, we've all walked away smiling.

        If you were a security guard in a shop, tasked your entire career with detecting shoplifters, and maybe it costs you personally if someone nicks something (e.g. you own the shop), and you saw a guy come into your shop and hide his face from the cameras deliberately... would you not be suspicious? Suspicious enough to monitor him further, at minimum. Maybe let your presence be known, or ask him a question or two and see the reaction? I know I would.

        Bam. The police did *just that*. They stopped someone for acting suspiciously. And they have FAR more wide-ranging powers available to them.

        Maybe he was cold. Maybe he's shy. Maybe he just saw his ex girlfriend. Maybe he was a criminal who didn't want to be recognised. That's why it's a suspicion.

        Stopped on suspicion != arrest and, in this case, charges unless you're a world-class moron.

        1. Graham Cobb

          No, Lee, you are wrong.

          Not about the law -- I am happy to take your word on that.

          However, you are wrong that avoiding surveillance is suspicious. And you are wrong that police guidance should not make it completely clear, to every constable, that it is unacceptable to society to have police stop anyone because they are refusing to be photographed. Just like it is unacceptable to society to have people stopped and spoken to because they are taking photographs. Neither activity is suspicious. Neither activity should interrupt someone's enjoyment of the public street.

          Your example of the person walking near a burglary is irrelevant. Then a crime has been committed and the police need information from witnesses as well as a heightened level of suspicion of anyone who might have committed the crime. All reasonable.

          There is no requirement that we assist the police. If they want to take photos in public that is up to them. But they have no more rights than anyone else doing that. If I don't want to be photographed that is equally my right. Applying coercion, by having a constable lurking ready to stop me if I avoid being photographed, is not acceptable and needs to be clearly banned if this technology is to be used for real.

          Bottom line: hiding from surveillance is not grounds for suspicion and will not be accepted as such. That needs to be made very clear to every officer involved.

          1. Ledswinger Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Bottom line: hiding from surveillance is not grounds for suspicion and will not be accepted as such. That needs to be made very clear to every officer involved.

            Good luck with that.

  15. spold Bronze badge

    I'm going to re-market my brollies as digital surveillance defence shields

    1. Rich 11 Silver badge

      You could make a deluxe version for sale at triple the cost just by lining the brolly with tinfoil.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Add a bright LED and the shiney tinfoil brolly can act as a downlight at night :)

  16. TheVogon Silver badge

    "and in the face of evidence it has a 98 per cent false positive rate."

    Casinos have been using this tech for years. It works.

    1. David Pearce

      The number of casino high rollers is probably not so overwhelmingly larger than card counters as the public to wanted criminals ratio.

      Casinos also have much better control of camera position and lighting.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    just one successful collar in latest facial recog trial

    therefore, after this successful trial-run, we're going to introduce it on a wide scale. After all, 1station = 1 catch. 1000 stations all over the country = 1000 TERRORISTS OFF OUR STREETS!

    ...

    PER WEEK!!!!

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      Re: just one successful collar in latest facial recog trial

      There aren't 1,000 terrorists in the country to catch. At a guess it would be somewhere in the order of 50.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    made threats" to officers

    "FUCK YOU!" - is it a threat, or a promise? Inquiring minds want to know :(

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: made threats" to officers

      post a photo, we can vote

  19. JLV Silver badge

    Anyone else feel that ‘strong and stable’ as a slogan has a whiff of not entirely pleasant associations? Say 30s-ish. Not that I am making any real comparisons there, just seems like an unfortunate soundbite.

    Fortunately, neither really applies.

  20. Baldrickk Silver badge

    arrested on suspicion of false imprisonment...

    ... but was also released

    So arrested (and presumably stuck in a cell) for false imprisonment.

    So false imprisonment for false false imprisonment? (and no, that is not a double negative)

  21. Country Bumpkin

    All missing the actual technology point here. From a technology perspective this isn't about whether arrests took place, someone covered their face or any of that, it's simply put, did the technology correctly match the face to the data already in its database? This technology trial would be much better served at a large institution with hundreds/thousands of participants who have willingly agreed to take part, like a university or national/local government building. Set the platform up with a count of 10% of the total population and let it do it's thing. Facial recognition is simply that, what happens with the result after that is down to the individual user (police making arrests, casinos ejecting known card counters etc.).

  22. adam payne Silver badge

    The Met's account of the event was that the man "was seen acting suspiciously"

    Oh that old chestnut.

  23. 89724102172714182892114I7551670349743096734346773478647892349863592355648544996312855148587659264921

    Why would snow stop play? Did white people get recognised as snowflakes?

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