back to article 'Deeply concerned' UK privacy watchdog thrusts probe into King's Cross face-recognizing snoop cam brouhaha

The UK's privacy watchdog last night launched a probe into the use of facial-recognition technology in the busy King's Cross corner of central London. It emerged earlier this week that hundreds of thousands of Britons passing through the 67-acre area were being secretly spied on by face-recognizing systems. King's Cross …

  1. JassMan Silver badge
    Trollface

    UK &US obviously doing the wrong tests.

    Recently heard on FranceInter radio that a trial carried out in Marseille was 100% successful. The “criminal“ was immediately identified and there were no false positives. Strangely no one had complained either.

    I suspect that the public weren't told that facial recognition was involved and the person being used as a test guineapig was a 3foot dwarf with flourescent orange hair and a nose like Cyrano de Bergerac. That can be the only explanation for the miraculous test result.

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: UK &US obviously doing the wrong tests.

      Correction: The test was carried out in Nice. I think the interviewee extolling the virtues of the wonderful French which was so much better than the Chinese one, was speaking from Marseille.

    2. batfink Bronze badge

      Re: UK &US obviously doing the wrong tests.

      So obviously a test involving a single person. There were no false positives because no other people were involved in the test. Cunning French persons...

  2. Kevin Johnston

    Private/Public land

    I may be mistaken but surely a site of that size in central(ish) London must include a number of public thoroughfares and roads. Have these been privatised and sold to the lanlords in question or are they ignoring the boundaries when configuring their cameras?

    Scanning on private property (to which the public have access) may be a grey area but if there are public roads/footpaths included then it is much easier to show the legal status and throw the landlords in the Tower

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: Private/Public land

      A quick duckduckgo shows that the entire site is owned by Kings Cross Development Ltd. Members of the public are allowed to walk through the various open spaces on suffrance. Obviously, they wouldn't sell much if they didn't allow the plebs in.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: Private/Public land

      Have these been privatised and sold to the lanlords

      Indeed they have. It's the same at Canary Wharf which is a huge private estate which for some unfathomable reason is served by public bus routes and rail transport. City Hall, the seat of London's government is surrounded by Kuwaiti-owned private space. More here and here.

    3. smudge Silver badge

      Re: Private/Public land

      if there are public roads/footpaths included then it is much easier to show the legal status and throw the landlords in the Tower

      I thought it was the other way round. In law you have no expectation of or right to privacy if you are in a public place. So councils have had CCTV on the public streets for years, and presumably others could too.

      But for private space I think that there have to be notices at the boundaries informing you of the use of CCTV, and, I suppose, giving you the option of not entering those spaces.

      I'd be interested to know if there are any. It's 4 years since I was round that area - I used to walk through it between the station and my work - and there weren't any then. But things may very well have changed.

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Private/Public land

        In law you have no expectation of or right to privacy if you are in a public place

        You do still have the right to have your personally-identifiable information managed under the auspices of GDPR..

        It might well depend on whether the data is processed and kept and, if so, for how long (and what privacy controls are in place).

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: Private/Public land

        I'd be interested to know if there are any. It's 4 years since I was round that area

        I was in the area a few weeks ago for "tourist-y reasons" and can't say I noticed anything to indicate either private property or mass surveillance. Arrived by underground, wandered around St. Pancras for a bit, wandered over to Kings Cross station and visited the Harry Potter shrine and shop. Massive crowds because of disruption on the ECML. Sat outside KC for a bit. Got back on the underground.

        Took a load of photos of the landmarks. Nothing at all obvious, but I might just go back and review the images...

        M.

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Private/Public land

      they ignoring the boundaries when configuring their cameras?

      Something that they are clearly also ignoring is GDPR - biometrics (like your face) quite clearly come under the heading of PI - which can only be collected after explicit consent is given, even in a public place..

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Private/Public land

      There's also the issue of photographers being stopped from taking photos in what appears to be public space, but then turns out to be privately owned space.

      Maybe what we should be campaigning for is clear and obvious demarcation between public and private spaces since the laws and rules seem to change by taking a step over some fuzzy and invisible boundary in our city centres these days. If you don't know that you've "crossed the line", how can you be expected to know the rules have changed?

      1. Chris Parsons

        Re: Private/Public land

        Especially as this 'private' space is what was so often 'public' space until recently, but nobody told us its ownership had changed.

  3. jake Silver badge

    Given that politicians are all crooks, by definition ...

    "tests showed Amazon’s Recognition systems incorrectly matched one in five California politicians with images of 25,000 criminals held in a database."

    Only one in five ... that's an 80% failure rate. Was it Amazon's AI that missed them, or were they incorrectly not included in the database?

    1. AMBxx Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Given that politicians are all crooks, by definition ...

      If you screw your eyes up and ignore common sense, the implication is that 4/5 were correctly matched to criminals in the database!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Given that politicians are all crooks, by definition ...

      No. It's saying they correctly matched Californian politicians with their image in the criminal database 80% of the time. It's just they also got it wrong 20% of the time.

      1. Charlie van Becelaere

        Re: Given that politicians are all crooks, by definition ...

        No. It's saying they correctly matched Californian politicians with their image in the criminal database 80% of the time. It's just they also got it wrong 20% of the time.

        Or is it the old 80/20 rule - 20% of the legislators are doing 80% of the crime?

  4. seven of five

    "remain deeply concerned"

    Whoa, "remaining deeply concerned" is extending-thoughts-and-payers-level of aggravation, someone calm that lady down.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "remain deeply concerned"

      "Strongly worded letters" are being drafted as we speak.

  5. Tony W

    Why?

    Apologies for being a bit slow, but what are they using it for?

    (I was also going to say, how do they tie a face to an identity, but then I remembered all the people using Facebook who insist on tagging all their friends with their real names on public posts.)

    1. nematoad Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Why?

      "It is not exactly clear how or why the consortium is using facial recognition, though."

      Because they can.

      It's another example of people getting all excited when they hear a new buzz-word like "blockchain". The upper management thinks "That looks like a good idea" and goes ahead with the plan without thinking. No-one seems to have given them the results of the tests on these systems though I find that strange given the fuss over the less than stellar performance of the Met's efforts. This lot obviously have more money than that they know what to do with and added this system like icing on a cake.

      I do hope that the ICO gets to the bottom of this and if Argent have stepped outside the law is then given some form of punishment. I will not hold my breath waiting as it will probably be put down to "excess zeal" in keeping the place secure.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        "This lot obviously have more money than that they know what to do with and added this system like icing on a cake."

        Maybe one of their Googly office tenants paid for it.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Why?

      What they are using it for ? The article states : "and insisted is there to 'ensure public safety'".

      So a private consortium has installed facial recog for safety reasons. I'm guessing that they would have security cameras in place and nobody would mind, obviously they have guards that are viewing the feeds in real time to ensure that nothing bad is happening, but what does facial recog bring them ? If they happen to tag a recognized Syrian terrorist, what are they going to do ?

      Call the cops is what they should do. After that, I haven't a clue and I doubt they do either.

      I have another question : what data are they comparing faces to and how did they get it ? If they are using criminal data from police databases, how did they get the authorization for that, and if not, what's the use of the facial recog in the first place ?

      To harass somebody they think is a shoplifter without any proof ?

      1. James 139

        Re: Why?

        Question is, is it identifying people, as in getting name etc, or just recognizing and tracking?

        You can use facial recognition to monitor where everyone goes without trying to identify or look them up in any way.

        Being able to automatically see where someone has gone, say a child kidnapper or just someone with dementia, is a lot quicker than having to manually sit there and trawl through CCTV footage, and in neither case have you identified the person by name.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          "Being able to automatically see where someone has gone, say a child kidnapper or just someone with dementia, is a lot quicker than having to manually sit there and trawl through CCTV footage, and in neither case have you identified the person by name."

          How does CCTV Facial Rec know that's the face of a child kidnapper or someone with dementia. The recognition success rate is poor enough as it is without adding in "he looks like a child kidnapper" to the mix.

          1. James 139

            Re: Why?

            You're reading too much into what I said.

            I am simply talking about when something HAS happened, such as a person has gone missing, and plod comes along with a photo and currently someone has to manually watch the CCTV footage.

            Recognizing a FACE is different to recognizing a IDENTITY.

            One sees and understands it is a face, it can follow said face and knows where said anonymous face went.

            The other sees a face, knows who it is and can be used to know who is where and what they are doing.

            Yes, it could still be used to track where a person went, if someone manually uses the system that way, hell a mobile phone does that all on its own, giving away bluetooth and wifi information as you walk around.

      2. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        I have another question : what data are they comparing faces to and how did they get it ? If they are using criminal data from police databases, how did they get the authorization for that,

        So probably a decade ago, I was in an employer's security office and looking at their version of this kind of system. Pretty neat, with motion trackers directing cameras, then system doing the zoom & enhance thing on faces that then routed to a screen for review. It was also supposed to be able to do facial recognition against employee ID photos, but apparently wasn't very reliable.

        But that was a decade ago*.

        Since then, I've visited plenty of customer sites that required photos to get a visitor's badge. So that genie's been out of it's bottle for a while. So those pics could be one source, another could be if KX security catch someone, then ban them from their property.. Possibly for committing heinous crimes like taking photos in what the miscreant thought was public space.. Which has a certain irony to it. I was also told by a rather zealous Docklands security bod that I could be barred from their estate for smoking** in the wrong place. Along with being 'fined' £50.. which was enterprising, if not entirely legal.

        But that's the problem with privatising 'public' spaces, especially if the public is unaware it's private property, and any by-laws that may apply for maximising revenue.

        and if not, what's the use of the facial recog in the first place ?

        Padding sales people's commission, I suspect.

        *And probably a decade before that, there were things like Racal's Talon system, part of London's 'Ring of Steel'.

        **Smokers being an easy target. Like the number of sites (hospitals etc) that state it's illegal to smoke anywhere on their property, even though UK law bans it in enclosed spaces. And I guess smokers would show up nicely if IR cameras are used.

        1. Martin an gof Silver badge

          Re: Why?

          the number of sites (hospitals etc) that state it's illegal to smoke anywhere on their property, even though UK law bans it in enclosed spaces.

          England. Not UK.

          In Wales the enclosed spaces ban was augmented in the 2017 Act with a ban in outdoor public spaces such as outdoor care settings for children, the grounds of schools, hospital grounds and public playgrounds. I'm not entirely sure when it was enacted, it might only be this year but people are generally aware of it, though they are still to be seen flouting it outside the entrances to Wales' biggest hospital.

          The current First Minister, Mark Drakeford, has previously stated that he's in favour of banning smoking in town centres and outside cafes and restaurants.

          I haven't checked, but I suspect the situation in Scotland is more similar to Wales than to England.

          M.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why?

        "I have another question : what data are they comparing faces to and how did they get it ? If they are using criminal data from police databases, how did they get the authorization for that, and if not, what's the use of the facial recog in the first place ?"

        This!

        The only possible use for it would be to enforce bans against people they have ejected for whatever reason. But that seems like an expensive and underperforming solution for what would seem to be a minor problem.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Everyone wear Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher masks around Kings Cross, that will really fuck it up for them but given how crap the tech is they think it's Theresa May and Donald Trump in the area.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Ugly T-Shirt FTW

      Almost there ...

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MIbFvK2S9g8

  7. iron Silver badge

    I foresee dazzle camouflage facial tattoos becoming popular in the near future.

    1. TimMaher Bronze badge

      Or...

      ... am I allowed to mention pixelated masks at this point?

      Available, quite cheaply, on t’interweb.

      1. Cederic Bronze badge

        Re: Or...

        The police can request you remove headgear.

        I've never heard of them demanding you remove make-up. Get good at facepainting..

  8. Chris G Silver badge

    Date Masuku

    It may be time to take a leaf out of Japanese Society's book and wear a smog mask (see title) with reflective glasses everywhere.

  9. Rich 2

    And in the meantime?

    The problem with "an investigation" is that it will take months (at best) and probably years.

    I have never understood why such "investigations" take so long (one would think an afternoon's visit to the accused would be long enough to make one's mind up about whether what they are doing is good or bad, but there you go).

    What SHOULD happen is that the kit should be forced out of service until such time (if ever) it is deemed 'good'. Of course, this NEVER happens, again for unfathomable reasons.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And in the meantime?

      " the kit should be forced out of service until such time"

      If the system is proved to be illegal, then using it is a criminal offence, so the police should be breaking the door down and confiscating the kit. And prosecuting those who are using it.

  10. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I have no doubt that the landlords have installed this tech to keep tracks on people who come into the area they think are up to no good. They have probably added all the photos of the people who have been caught shoplifting, pick pocketing etc around that area, so as soon as they are flagged up on the facial recognition the security staff can go and harass them until they go away.

    They will probably also use it to monitor their own workers to see if staff are taking too many smoking breaks or in areas they shouldn't be.

    I think everyone should walk through the area then submit a GDPR request for all the data they have recorded from them, they will soon realise its not worth the hassle after they receive 100s of requests per day.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      "I think everyone should walk through the area then submit a GDPR request for all the data they have recorded from them, they will soon realise its not worth the hassle after they receive 100s of requests per day."

      The downside to that is you will need to submit your photo, name and address to them so they can match it with their stored data. Oops. You now have a "customer relationship" with them.

  11. martinusher Silver badge

    Stable Door, meet the ex-Horse....

    I was visiting the UK some years ago, 2012 I think, and coincidentally there were a bunch of urban riots in city centers. The police didn't do much to intervene apart form collecting images and video from the scene. Over the next few months many people were systematically collared and busted for various public order offenses.

    I also recall that after the 7/7 bombings the culprits were identified and their movements tracked within hours from video footage.

    The UK started using technology in law enforcement back in the early 1970s in Belfast. Obviously, early steps were more prototypes, error prone and needed quite a bit of manual intervention. But that's coming up for 50 years ago. During this time people in the UK have lived with constant video surveillance and automatic tracking of their vehicles and nobody's said much (its just promoted the trade in hoodies). Now, with all the tools in place, I'm surprised that people have only just noticed.....and now we're seeing people trying to apply the provisions of the US's Bill of Rights to UK law. Good luck with that. (The Bill of Rights has delayed some of this but it hasn't stopped it in the US.....)

  12. Tom Paine Silver badge

    Pffft

    ....the King's Cross area of central London, which thousands of people pass through every day.

    Whaaaat? I bet. Month's salary that you couldn't take a wide angle still pic of the site and get less than a thousand people in it. Over 24h, it'll be well over 100k. Every day.

    (Long story, but I know the area well over the last 20y.)

  13. Cederic Bronze badge

    Sadiq Khan

    Given the current London mayor has overseen the Metropolitan Police fining a man for avoiding their entirely unjustified use of facial technology his contribution to the Kings Cross usage is rank hypocrisy.

  14. Jamie Jones Silver badge

    No need to get disguises...

    ... apparently, you only need to do one of the following:

    1) Smile

    2) Stand in front of a non-white, plain background.

    3) Not look directly at the camera

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019