A UK man was fined £90 ($115) for disorderly behavior after attempting to cover his face while walking by a facial recognition camera on the streets of London. The cameras were set up in a large green van in Romford, East London.
From the street, it is obvious that this van is a surveillance vehicle, which makes some London residents feel uncomfortable.
While walking by the van, one man covered his face with his jacket to avoid being detected by the cameras. Unfortunately, the police who were monitoring the cameras decided to stop the man and take his picture anyway, and then fine him £90.
As he was being pulled away by police, the man shouted “If I want to cover me face, I’ll cover me face. Don’t push me over when I’m walking down the street. How would you like it if you walked down the street and someone grabbed your shoulder? You wouldn’t like it, would you?”
The officer told him, “Calm yourself down or you’re going in handcuffs. It’s up to you. Wind your neck in.”
“You wind your neck in,” the man replied.
After being fined, the man told The Daily Mail,
‘The chap told me down the road – he said they’ve got facial recognition. So I walked past like that. It’s a cold day as well. As soon as I’ve done that, the police officer’s asked me to come to him. So I’ve got me back up. I said to him ‘f*** off’, basically. I said ‘I don’t want me face shown on anything. If I want to cover me face, I’ll cover me face, it’s not for them to tell me not to cover me face. I’ve got a now £90 fine, here you go, look at that.”
Silkie Carlo, the director of a group called Big Brother Watch, believes that the man had every right to cover his face.
“He simply pulled up the top of his jumper over the bottom of his face, put his head down and walked past. There was nothing suspicious about him at all … you have the right to avoid [the cameras], you have the right to cover your face. I think he was exercising his rights,” Carlo said.
According to a report from the Guardian, the South Wales Police scanned the crowd of more than 170,000 people who attended the 2017 Champions League final soccer match in Cardiff and falsely identified thousands of innocent people. The cameras identified 2,470 people as criminals but 2,297 of them were innocent, and only 173 of them were criminals, which is a 92 percent false positive rate.
According to a Freedom of Information request filed by Wired, these are actually typical numbers for the facial recognition software used by the South Wales Police. Data from the department showed that there were false positive rates of 87 percent and 90 percent for different events.
The South Wales Police later issued a statement admitting to the high failure rate of the technology but downplaying the potential problems and privacy risks.
“Of course no facial recognition system is 100 percent accurate under all conditions. Technical issues are normal to all face recognition systems which means false positives will continue to be a common problem for the foreseeable future,” the statement read.
Similar numbers were released by the FBI in 2016, with the agency also admitting that their facial recognition database consisted of mostly innocent people since they use drivers license and passport photos for their searches, in addition to mug shots. In fact, there is a 50/50 chance that your picture is in a facial recognition database. Also in 2016, another study found that facial recognition software disproportionately targeted people with dark skin.