Essex Police trials facial recognition technology


Image caption,

Essex Police said it would look to introduce the technology if trials proved successful

  • Author, Andy Trigg
  • Role, BBC News, Essex
At a glance

  • Essex Police is the latest force to use live facial recognition technology (LFR)
  • It carried out trials this week on high streets in Chelmsford and Southend
  • Officers said it led to two arrests
  • Privacy campaigners want police to stop using facial recognition technology over concerns around human rights

A police force has said it will look to introduce live facial recognition (LFR) technology if tests of the equipment prove successful.

Essex Police trialled LFR on high streets in Chelmsford and Southend this week, which it said had led to two arrests.

Officers hoped the technology would help them catch criminals who were wanted for serious offences.

The privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch has described LFR as “dangerously authoritarian” and a “threat to our privacy and freedoms”.

‘Instantaneously deleted’

Essex Police said the technology was on loan from South Wales Police, where there had been “not one single wrongful arrest” since it was first used in March 2022.

Assistant Chief Constable of Essex Police, Andy Mariner, said: “They [the public] shouldn’t be worried by this.

“If they go through and they’re not paired up with our system, their picture is instantaneously deleted.

“It’s only when we pair it up to somebody who’s wanted… that we will keep the picture for up to 24 hours.”

Image caption,

The equipment being used by Essex Police is on loan from South Wales Police

Facial recognition technology can be used by police to scan large groups of people and by running photos through an image database known as a “watch list”.

Chris Philp, MP for Croydon South and minister for crime, policing and fire said the technology was being used by the Metropolitan Police at large events such as football matches.

“It was used at a Premier League game in London just a few weeks ago, and they arrested a wanted sex offender who happened to wander into the ground,” he said.

“They also found two people on football banning orders.

“For the 99.9% of people going to that football game who weren’t on the list, the image was immediately deleted.”

Image caption,

Police officers can act immediately if a wanted person is detected by LFR

The Home Office said facial recognition had “a sound legal basis” and had already led to criminals being caught.

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