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View From 'The Voice': Police must re-think tactics

A FACE IN THE CROWD: Carnival-goers descending on west London last year

BLACK LEADERS and the events they gather at have long faced surveillance by governments and politicians.

From the Black Panthers of the 1960s to the Black Lives Matter movement of recent years, organisations that spread messages of black empowerment, hope in the face of oppression and self-determination have received close scrutiny from the authorities.

Today, this scrutiny remains as close as it ever has done thanks to technology.

The news that Met Police officers plan to trial facial recognition software for the second time in a row at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival has rightly been met with concern by civil rights and race equality campaigners.
A growing body of evidence from the US suggests that when police officers use this technology in the course of their work it has a negative impact on black people.

Given the over-policing of black and minority ethnic communities through measures such as stop and search it’s inevitable that black people are more likely to have their names recur on the police databases that are used with facial recognition even if they have not committed a crime. The fact that these databases are not necessarily cleared when people are found innocent of a crime, means that a simple arrest—not a conviction—can tie anyone to the database indefinitely.

There is also the concern that the technology is not routinely checked for accuracy accoring to campaigners.
Privacy International says that the software occasionally has difficulty distinguishing between different dark-skinned faces. And there is no transparency about what ’types’ of faces a facial recognition system is trained for.

Police are vital to keeping people safe — but they must police by consent and with the support of the community. The Met need to closely monitor the use of this invasive surveillance. Where it has been used there emerges a pattern of racially biased surveillance and suspicion.

More police officers on the ground would be more effective in providing assurance to communities that crime is being tackled.

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