Officials at the Metropolitan Police Service of London announced last Friday that the organization will soon begin to use "Live Facial Recognition" (LFR) technology deployed around London to identify people of interest as they appear in surveillance video and alert officers to their location. The system, based on NEC's NeoFace Watch system, will be used to check live footage for faces on a police "watch list," a Metropolitan Police spokesperson said. The real-time facial-recognition system will target suspects in violent crimes, child exploitation cases, and missing children and vulnerable adults, among others.
The video system, the spokesperson noted in a written statement, "simply gives police officers a prompt, suggesting 'that person over there may be the person you're looking for'" and that the decision to act on that information will always be made by officers in the field. Initially, the system will be deployed at locations "where intelligence suggests we are most likely to locate serious offenders," the spokesperson said. "Each deployment will have a bespoke 'watch list,' made up of images of wanted individuals, predominantly those wanted for serious and violent offenses."
Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave, said, "As a modern police force, I believe that we have a duty to use new technologies to keep people safe in London. Independent research has shown that the public support us in this regard. Prior to deployment we will be engaging with our partners and communities at a local level." That engagement will include officers handing out leaflets explaining the program at locations where the technology is deployed.
Putting a face to a name
Live facial-recognition systems have become part of many private organizations' internal security operations. In Las Vegas, a number of casinos have used facial-recognition systems for decades—not only to spot potential criminals but to also catch "undesirables" such as card counters and others who have been banned from the gaming floors. (I got a first-hand look at some of those early systems back in 2004 while reporting on the gaming industry's use of facial recognition, license plate readers, and other surveillance technologies.)
Most of the earlier systems operated at relatively low rates and depended a great deal on humans in the loop to confirm results. Over the past few years, however, machine-learning-based facial-recognition systems have made live facial recognition more powerful and much more scalable.
Facial-recognition technology similar to the NEC system has already been widely deployed across China, with about 200 million cameras by the government's own estimate. And the Metropolitan Police is no stranger to the technology —in 2015, while now-Prime Minister Boris Johnson was mayor of London, the police service asked for access to Transport for London's automatic number-plate recognition (ANPR) camera system to perform real-time facial recognition of motorists entering London.