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Security camera next to the Big Ben in London

Real-time face recognition has become standard operating procedure for cops in a few cities, in both authoritarian and democratic countries.

What’s new: After years of trials, police departments in Moscow and London are using face recognition to scan the streets for suspected criminals.

How it works: Systems in both cities connect to pre-existing closed-circuit television networks. Enforcers in Moscow aim to deploy the tech city-wide, according to The Verge. So far, though, they’re using only a fraction of the city’s tens of thousands of cameras. London plans a more limited rollout in popular shopping and tourist areas.

  • Moscow paid NTechLabs, a homegrown company, $3.2 million to license its technology. The company maintains a watch list of suspects and notifies authorities if it finds a match.
  • Prior to serving the law enforcement market, NTechLabs offered a consumer app for matching pictures of people to their social media profile. Its FindFace app made headlines in 2016 when internet trolls used it to dox sex workers.
  • London’s Metropolitan Police licenses face recognition tech from NEC. It runs cameras for five to six hours at a time as it tries to match watch lists of suspected violent criminals and child sex traffickers.

Why it matters: Face recognition technology is becoming routine for police forces around the globe. It has been used to catch a murderer in Chongqing, helped stop street crime in New York City, and figured in 30 percent of solved cases in one small U.S. city.

Yes, but: Independent researchers evaluating recent trials in London found that the system misidentified 81 percent of suspects it flagged. The police department contests those numbers, saying its own studies show only one in 1,000 false positives.

We’re thinking: Law enforcement agencies worldwide need thoughtfully designed and clearly worded regulatory guidance so they can use these tools without overstepping civil liberties.


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