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Could you be a target? Police plans for Notting Hill '17

CAUGHT ON CAMERA: An example of how the facial recognition technology might look

THE MET has announced plans to continue their trial of facial recognition software at Notting Hill Carnival for the second year running, in a bid to “ensure everyone has a safe and enjoyable carnival”.

In a statement to The Voice, the Met said:

“The facial recognition trial continues and the system will be used in the policing operation at Notting Hill Carnival, having been used in last year’s event for the first time. The technology involves the use of overt cameras which scan the faces of those passing by and flag-up potential matches against a database of custody images. The database will be populated with images of individuals who are forbidden from attending Carnival, as well as individuals wanted by police.

“If a match is made by the system, officers will be alerted and will seek to speak with the individual to verify their identity, and will make an arrest if necessary.

“It is possible that faces of members of the public in the background of a positive identification will feature. These images will be retained for the purposes of analysis of this project only and will not be speculatively searched or disseminated for any purpose.”


Anti-racism and civil liberties groups have criticised the move, arguing that deploying the biometric technology at a predominately African and Caribbean event is discriminatory and questioned why it is being used at Notting Hill Carnival after a series of high profile events this summer.

Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said:

“When facial recognition was used at last year’s event, not a single person officers were looking for was identified — but an air of suspicion was cast over thousands of innocent people, including the British African Caribbean community that the Carnival seeks to celebrate.”

The readers of The Voice Online also shared their thoughts on the news. One reader, Kristoffer Bell, said the move was “very bad” while reader Vocal Ex questioned:

“Why don’t they use it at football matches or other large crowd events? So obvious but perhaps this is the message that they want to convey?”

The use of facial recognition software at events in the UK is unique to Notting Hill Carnival and many are questioning why this has yet to be used at other major events with bigger crime rates.

Last year, Avon and Somerset Police reported 236 offences at Glastonbury Festival, with around 175,000 attendees, while only a reported 454 arrests were made at last year’s carnival, with around two million attendees.

TERRORISM WORRIES: Notting Hill Carnival Chairman Augustine Leith Francis feels the software may discourage terrorists

While claims of discrimination have been made due to the large African and Caribbean presence at Notting Hill Carnival, Chairman Augustine Leith Francis sees the need for the use of the facial recognition software. He said:

“With the terrorism threat that we’re facing, Carnival is a soft target and I think it's something that we need to discuss more.”

Some of our readers agreed, with Iona Natasha Gabriel commenting:

“Of course it’s a good idea. I go to Carnival every year and there is so many people who go there for the wrong reasons and cause trouble. I’ve nearly been bottled on countless occasions. If you can’t behave, you shouldn’t be a part of it.”


Francis sees the value in facial recognition software at Notting Hill Carnival, but also reveals that there has been a lack of dialogue between the Met and the carnival organisers in relation to its use at the event. He said:

“I think there should be a discussion with us, the organisers about it. They need to discuss it with us in full
and they haven’t done so.”

ON THE GROUND: Critics say the use of officers on patrol is a better alternative to the technology

The discussion of facial recognition software and biometric technology has caused debate, as some argue that the rights of the individual are not respected.

Spurrier added:

“This intrusive biometric surveillance has no place at Notting Hill Carnival. There is no basis in law for facial recognition, no transparency around its use and we’ve had no public or parliamentary debate about whether this technology could ever be lawful in a democracy.”

Earlier this year, a UN report debated that the world needs an “international treaty to protect people’s privacy from unfettered cyber surveillance”, adding to the concern of the rapid evolvement of technology and the privacy of the individual.

Alongside discussion about rights, there are also concerns regarding the impartiality of facial recognition software.

Harmit Kambo, campaigns director at Privacy International, a UK-based registered charity that defends and promotes the right to privacy across the world, said:

“It would be misleading to say that facial recognition technology is impartial or indeed that it is biased. In reality, the technology reflects the biases of its creators and how it is used. Worryingly, the algorithms behind facial recognition are not regulated and there is no transparency about what ’types’ of faces a facial recognition system is trained for. Research has indicated that facial recognition systems often demonstrate racial biases, and systems developed in Europe and the US for example, are more likely to wrongly identify people with darker skin.


“When deployed at one of the world’s biggest Afro-Caribbean gatherings, not only are black people more likely to be targeted by the technology, innocent black people are also more likely to be identified as being involved in criminality.”

While the Met has liaised with Big Brother Watch, a British civil liberties and privacy pressure group, regarding the technology, these concerns still remain for many.

“Police are vital to keeping people safe — but they must police by consent,” concludes Spurrier.

“The Met need to put the brakes on the use of this invasive surveillance. Officers on the ground would provide far more reassurance.”


According to Privacy International, Biometric technology captures and stores the physiological characteristics of individuals. Characteristics may include voice and facial identifiers, iris patterns, DNA profiles and fingerprints. When storied in a database, these characteristics can be paired to individuals for later identification and verification.

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