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London police to launch facial recognition operations

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Britain's biggest police force said on Friday it will begin to conduct live facial recognition technology operations, after carrying out a series of trials in recent years.

[LONDON] Britain's biggest police force said on Friday it will begin to conduct live facial recognition technology operations, after carrying out a series of trials in recent years.

London's Metropolitan Police Service said its use of the cutting-edge tech at "specific locations" in the capital will be "intelligence-led" to target serious and violent crime.

The Met stressed it will be utilised in a standalone system and not linked to any other imaging system, such as CCTV, body worn cameras on officers or car license plate readers.

The increased deployment of facial technology has fuelled controversy in Britain, where its use does not yet have a legal framework.

"As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London," Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave said in a statement announcing the move.

"We are using a tried-and-tested technology, and have taken a considered and transparent approach in order to arrive at this point," he added.

"Similar technology is already widely used across the UK, in the private sector."

The facial recognition system, developed by Japanese tech giant NEC, will involve cameras focused on a small, targeted area to scan passers-by, according to the Met.

It will use intelligence to identify where serious offenders are most likely to appear, the force said.

Each deployment will have a "bespoke watch list" of images of wanted individuals, "predominantly those wanted for serious and violent offences", it added.

The operation will be clearly signposted and officers deployed will hand out leaflets about the activity.

However, critics of the expanding use of facial recognition have warned it risks undermining fundamental rights, with privacy group Big Brother Watch denouncing the trend as an "epidemic".

Mr Ephgrave said the Met's "careful and considered deployment" balances safety with privacy concerns.

"The public rightly expect us to use widely available technology to stop criminals," he added.

"Equally I have to be sure that we have the right safeguards and transparency in place to ensure that we protect people's privacy and human rights."

AFP