Facial recognition: Britain faces a dystopian future

George Harrison – Spiked Online May 27, 2019

Automated facial recognition (AFR) is the state’s latest, and most invasive, surveillance technology.

Since 2015, three police forces – South Wales, Metropolitan and Leicestershire – have made use of AFR in controversial live trials. Now, South Wales Police have been taken to court by office worker Ed Bridges, who started a crowdfunding campaign when he felt his privacy had been violated by AFR.

Bridges’ legal challenge has been backed by civil-rights organisation Liberty, which argues that the indiscriminate deployment of AFR is equivalent to taking DNA samples or fingerprints without consent. According to Liberty, there are no legal grounds for scanning thousands of innocent people in this way. It also claims the technology discriminates against black people, whose faces are disproportionately flagged by mistake, meaning they are more likely to be stopped by police unfairly.

In London, AFR has been put on hold while the Metropolitan Police carries out a review. The Met is also facing a legal challenge of its own from Big Brother Watch, another civil-liberties group. Director Silkie Carlo, a vocal critic of AFR since its inception, told spiked: ‘People are right to be concerned when they can see us moving towards a police state. The result of this technology is that the normal relationship between innocence and suspicion has been inverted.’

One camera, placed in a busy, inner-city location, can scan the faces of up to 18,000 pedestrians per minute, automatically logging the features of anyone unlucky enough to walk past. A computer immediately checks these faces against a database of wanted mugs and lets nearby officers know if there’s a match.

I have previously warned on spiked against the illiberal use of this technology, and the flaws inherent in AFR policing have since become even clearer. Around 50 deployments have taken place so far in Wales alone, including during the Champions League final in Cardiff in June 2017. On that occasion, the cameras scanned 2,470 people – 92 per cent of whom were wrongly identified as criminals.

The trials do not exactly inspire confidence in the accuracy of this technology. But even if AFR worked perfectly, its use would still violate our right to privacy and turn us all into suspects. In previous live AFR trials, it was unclear what would happen to members of the public who refuse to be scanned. Well, now we know: anyone who doesn’t consent to being turned into a walking ID-card will be treated like a criminal.

During a trial in east London earlier this month, a man spotted the police cameras and pulled up his jumper to cover his face. Officers then ordered him to uncover his face and then took a picture of him anyway. When he protested – pointing out that he hadn’t committed a crime – he was fined for disorderly behaviour. Is this a future anyone wants? A country where you can’t even walk down the road without being digitally violated, only to get mobbed by officers and fined if you complain? The presumption of innocence – arguably the key tenet of our legal system – is being thrown out of the window.

And there are still burning questions the police need to answer. We do not know what would happen, for example, to a Muslim woman who walks past a facial-recognition camera wearing a veil if she refuses to take it off. Although the Home Office insists that refusing to be scanned is not a crime – or grounds for suspicion on its own – it is clear from the latest trail that officers do not take kindly to citizens dodging their cameras.

Even more alarming is the fact that this technology has been deployed with no real oversight from politicians and no public consultation. As Big Brother Watch puts it: ‘This is the police making up their own rules as they go along, and we shouldn’t stand for it.’ These automated facial-recognition checkpoints have been allowed to spring up largely without our knowledge or consent.

Meanwhile, the government has largely kept quiet on the subject. The Home Office’s Biometrics Strategy outlines the benefits of AFR, and clearly views it as a useful aid to policing. It also suggests that AFR could eventually be used at UK borders to check travellers’ faces against watchlists. It says that police forces could benefit from a ‘common facial matching service’ which would harmonise the use of AFR across law-enforcement bodies and make it even more powerful.

It is not on the immediate horizon, but there are further fears from civil-rights groups that Britain’s vast network of CCTV cameras could eventually be fitted with AFR technology. Britain has the most CCTV cameras per head of any country in the world. Fitting them with AFR would create a surveillance state more powerful than any in history.

Thankfully, owing to pressure from campaigners, the wide-scale use of this technology in the UK is likely to be stalled – for now, at least. The Metropolitan Police will announce their decision on AFR in June. If the force decides to keep using it, it is likely to face a legal challenge, further slowing its deployment. But there is a lot resting on this. If the use of AFR isn’t stopped, we will be swiftly frogmarched to a future where we can’t even pop to the shops without a CCTV camera scanning our face. Essentially, we’d be living with biometric checkpoints on every street corner.

The word dystopian is often overused, but it is a perfectly apt description of Britain’s future if the use of AFR is allowed to spread unchecked.

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3 responses to “Facial recognition: Britain faces a dystopian future”

  1. 20, 30, 50 or 100 Years From Now, Where Is This Going?

    So CCTV’s are plastered everywhere, and soon to be fitted with AFR. Say that is the case 50 years from now. Does this mean that police will never patrol the streets again? Does this mean then, there is no need to even have as many police as there are today? Think about it. If a police officer can sit on his lazy backside all day watching monitors, instead of patrolling the areas of the country, what is the point of having the number of police officers that are around today?

    As you are all aware, since the advent of the computer revolution, and the introduction to the public of the Internet in the mid 90’s (fyi the Internet was actually invented in the late ’60s, aka Aloha Project), more and more occupations have been replaced by not just automation, but by smart systems too. Question to all you police officers out there, you do know that eventually your occupations will become at risk of extinction?

    Its not just policing at risk. Eventually buses will be fully automated, no need for bus drivers. Trains will be fully automated (many are already fully automated), no more drivers. The trucks will be automated, and also taxis! Already banks are automating more and more of their services. Stores like Amazon and MacDonalds are replacing their manual laborers.

    So I ask all you people, think very carefully now, are you in a job that can be automated? Just take a look at bricklaying, how long do you think it will be we go from this machine to a robot, like this one, you think laying bricks is going to be hard to program it to do? It will work all day and night, seven days a week, will not argue, it will not go on strike, and it will never ask for a raise, and it will only get cheaper to run as time goes on.

    Take a look at this video, 15 jobs to be soon to be made largely extinct for humans, 1) All drivers, 2) Farmers, 3) Printer and Publishing Industry, 4) Cashiers, 5) Travel Agents 6) Manufacturing Workers, 7) Dispatchers, 8) Bar Tenders and Waiters, 9) Bank Tellers, 10) Military Pilots (enter the smart drone!), 11) Fast Food Workers, 12) Telemarketers (GOOD RIDDANCE!), 13) Accountants And Tax Preparers, 14) Stock Traders (Wall Street, and London Will become Ghost Towns!), 15) Construction Workers!

    Especially you people in Britain, do you see 6)? All manufacturing workers will be gone. Ok, so you get your BREXIT. Now what? You think they are going to bring back manufacturing labor jobs, especially with your expensive currency? Nope. As soon as BREXIT starts, they will bring in the robots. So all you people in the North, are going to stay poor, and life is going to become even more miserable!

    So I ask all you gentle readers. What is the point of growing your populations? Who is going to pay all those people that are out of work? Who is going to pay the taxes for all these out of work people?
    That’s not going to happen! Why? Because the very people that bought the robots to replace YOU, are the very people that control the government. Do you really think that they are going to let go of their wealth? It has never happened in history. And its not going to start now.

    So what can we expect of the next 50 years? Say you are a young person just about to enter the work force, or your thinking of having a child, what can you expect for your son or daughter with they grow up?

    As you have all been seeing in recent years, there has been a growing divide between between the upper echelons of society and the lower classes. The middle class has taken a big hit, and its shrinking. This is going to continue. Society will polarize, between the top rich and the poor, there will be no middle class. Sounds grim doesn’t it? Remember the story of Oliver Twist? Remember how he cupped a bowl and asked, “May I have some more?”. That’s the future for you, and for many of us!

    Is there no way out of this? Actually there is! Seriously, I am not joking. Read on, this will intrigue you…

    How To Prepare For The Future: Mass Automation Begets World Poverty … The Solution!

    For many centuries countries have blindly been following the rule of continuous growth. Grow your populations, grow your economies, to grow your wealth. Well that was well and good, when there was a need for lots hands to do a lot of work that was around to do. Building cities and economies was a very labor intensive job. Well now it isn’t. So why keep growing populations?

    As you have been told for many years now, population growths in all Western countries has gone negative. At least that is the inherent population, or natural growth of the populations. For instance, countries like, here where I am in Italy, the replacement rate is about 1.1-1.2 children per couple, Japan is worse it is less than 1.0, recently the US has gone under 2.1 which is what is generally required to replace your population, that is to keep it at a constant level. So governments, thinking that this is bad, import more people through immigration, or as WE HAVE ALL been experiencing here in Europe, massive influxes of people from war torn countries in the Middle East (no thanks to the USA and Britain for that!).

    Well this has to now stop. That is growing your populations. If there aren’t going to be jobs to support people, then why continue to grow. Its time to start making do with less people. That’s right! Start lowering populations. Think about it. Many of you people I am sure come from or are a part of families, where the mother and father both work, and there is no desire for having big families. Understandably most women desire to have a child. That’s biologically programmed into them. But after the first child, how many of those same women want to have another? Not many. This isn’t the ’50s any more! Women work, and they like to work, and it full fills them, and rightly so.

    So, why have a lot of mouths to feed in your country when the future will be too bleak for people to find work and support themselves? Answer: don’t have large populations. Start living within the capacity of your economy. Whether it is psychosomatic, or there really is a guiding hand that is controlling our inner most thoughts, the message is there, it has been for decades. That’s why many families don’t have much more than just a solitary child. So we need to start shrinking our populations, because we do not need to have large populations anymore.

    So what if we do lower our populations by stop importing immigrants, and just accept our lower birth rates as just normal. What will happen? Well rest assured, we are not going to become extinct, we will just find a new lower level of population equilibrium. But look at the other positives:

    – more land can be reclaimed to be natural wood lands, and more wild life can be returned,
    – cleaner environments with lesser pollution, while still having all the a high tech. conveniences,
    – social standards will increase, especially for the lower classes, because there will be more work to go around
    – +++the upper class will decrease in size, an the gap between lower and upper class will decrease; why? think about it, the thieves at the top of society will have less to rake in, because there are less people, the lower classes will have more influence from the greater amount of work that there will be available! That’s +++ for most of society (except for the rich, and rightly so, they have been stealing to much those crooks!)

    Will this happen? NOPE! And I will tell you why…

    You see, most countries, especially us European countries have large debts, and the idiots in government will only look at stupid things like the debt/GDP ratio. So governments will continuously keep on packing more rats into our economic cages so they can “control” this ratio. What a load of baloney! Since when has ANY country in HISTORY lowered its debt/GDP ratio without going through some sort of economic turmoil, like an economic depression or through a major war where they call steel the wealth of the poor loser of that war. (that’s the REAL reason why we have wars! wars always come, like WWI and WWII, where there is economic stress!)

    Furthermore, governments have only been run only one way for millennia, and that is through economic continuous growth. But what does that mean? It means the people who are in control of the economy, the upper classes, want continuous wealth growth, and they will never accept the reverse!

    But what if we could decrease our populations, how could we do it, especially if we have a large debt load? Well, this is not something that can be done quickly, it could take an entire life time to slowly achieve what I am going to propose. Now I can’t show you here, but I have run the numbers, I’ve done models, and this is what I have come up with:

    1: Let your population drop naturally, do not allow immigrants into your economy; visitors and alike are fine,
    2: Since we have aging populations in Europe (and this is REALLY an advantage, you will soon see), let the natural death rate excel the birth rate, do not encourage births, let people naturally decide, for if you raise the birth rates you only prelong the process of recovery,
    3: Force mandatory retirement at say 65 years of age: as these older workers are taken out employment, these usually high paying jobs become vacant, so now you employ the younger generations (this especially applies to countries like here in Italy),
    4: Make sure those who are retired are looked after with pensions, but pensions should not be gold platted like they are many European countries, like they do for politicians! Pensions must be no more than any other person gets, the minimum! You see how governments will never go for this,
    5: Especially For European Countries: the Public Services are well over represented, so they must be shrinked, so as people retire in governments they are not fully replaced. Technology must be used to replace government positions where they were once fulfilled by a person. That means with younger more tech. savvy people.
    6: As governments slowly start to shrink because high paying jobs are replaced with lower paying jobs, the money gained can be used, and it must be used to lower debts. Believe me its is a lot of money.
    Furthermore, cost cutting will come also in many areas of the economy, where governments were planning of building new roads or infrastructure for new population growth, that will all end. More so, and this will happen in many countries in Europe, many small towns and villages will eventually close down, because of the population drop. Thus lesser infrastructure is required, from gas, water, roads, bridges and so on. All this money saved, goes into the paying down debts. Once the debts start going down, then you just need repeat everything every year from step 1.

    How long will it will it take for things to improve? Well it all depends on how serious the government is following the above steps. Consider Italy, it has about 600,000 people dying each year, and just over 400, 000 births a year. That’s 200,000 drop per year. So in 10 years, that’s a 2 million drop in population, that along amounts to billions in euros in pension costs. It will get worse since we haven’t reached the peak of the number of deaths yet due to the baby boom years. Italy has been stuck in its economic rut now for some 40 years. If the next 40 years we dropped our population naturally we would have some 10-15 million less people. That’s a drop from 60 million people today to 45 million. But many more younger people will be working. Of course, automation is going to come more and more, and so it is imperative that we start this process now! Just like all European countries should.

    So what does this means say 50 years from now? Well it means for example with Italy as I have said there -200,000 population annual deficit. This only going to get worse it will most likely peak to about -500,000 as the birth rate is dropping continuously and the death rate is growing, until it peaks with the end of the baby boom generation (started when those were born early 60’s ). This will be the case for another good 30 to 40 years. That means by all likelihood, if we do not allow immigration, the population could very well drop by 1/4 or more in 50 years. So Italy will have about 40-45 million people.

    Think about how much easier it will be if you have 1/4 less people in your country. Lesser traffic, no need to build more highways. Hospitals will have less waiting lines. Trains will run on time. Buses will flow around the city better, with less cars. Less pollution, less garbage. But more importantly…more competition on manufacturers.
    Consider the automobile industry, they will be forced to compete more to get sales, instead of having a rigged market where the government just stuffs more rats in the cage, so to speak!

    Anyway, I think all you people get the idea. With now full automation coming, thanks to advanced robotics and smart systems, its time we stopped putting stress on our economies and start listening to our natural human extincts, which are telling us to populate less!

    But will our evil governments, and greedy and sinister upper classes allow us to change our economies like this? I think you understand why the answer is what it is.

    So to all you British, think of this BREXIT chaos as an opportunity! Yes break away from Europe, but don’t let your elite classes trap you into another economic nightmare. Think very carefully where you want Britain, to be 50 and 100 years from now! This is without doubt your very last chance. Your future for your kids, grandchildren, and for people in your nation for the next 1,000 years will be riding on what you do after once you have BREXIT.

    Chances like these, that is BREXIT is really a chance, do not come around often. If you get this one wrong, you will be paying a nightmare of a price for not just generations to come, but for the next thousand years!

    Above all don’t listen to your Upper Class Elites they don’t care for most of the people, they are only interest in their greedy wealth, a wealth that is slowly destroying your country, like it has in the North of England.

    Don’t give the Upper Class greedy bastards a look into deciding BREXIT, they’re the ones that got you into this mess in the first place, it wasn’t just the European Union….we are all suffering too here in continental Europe too! This whole saga isn’t really about US in Europe and YOU in Britain…its really about elites and the upper class that hoard the wealth and manipulate the system, we all have that in common, not just you Brits!

  2. Thank you Dorian

  3. George Orwell, eat your heart out …