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“Rapidly improving” technology may be bad for your health

I’ve just seen this newspaper report (below). “Police will use facial recognition software”, it says, “to scan the faces of tens of thousands of revellers at this year’s Notting Hill Carnival” (a multi-ethnic, multicultural, multi-everything annual festival). The people who go to the carnival go there to celebrate all those multi-type things. But that’s not how everybody sees it apparently: the police seem to have told The Guardian that for them it’s “the biggest annual public order test for the Metropolitan police”. So they must look forward to it, mustn’t they?
    The police have explained how their software works: overt cameras will
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.
They’re doing it again this year because they tried it last year. So it was successful then, was it? Er, no: last year “it failed to pick out any suspects”. But the technology is said to be “improving rapidly”. Now, there’s a worry. Anybody on a computer, a phone or a tablet who updates regularly knows that “improvements” are not all good news. So last year’s technology that failed to pick out suspects could by now have developed an even more useful ability to pick out people even if they’re not “suspects” at all, people who are not “wanted offenders”, not “individuals wanted by police”, who don’t match a “custody image” because they’ve never been in custody. They just vaguely look like, and so are a “potential match” for, somebody in a blurred photo buried in the file of an unsolved case back at the police station. “Picking out”, in fact, some of the perfectly innocent people who make up the vast majority at the Notting Hill Carnival and rendering them guilty.
    Of course, the police don’t need rapidly improving technology to do this – they already do it as part of their ordinary day-to-day and night-to-night activities. But the technology will help, we can be sure of that. And for the police, the Carnival is an ideal testing ground. I once knew a young black man in Hackney, East London, who was arrested and charged with throwing a brick at a policeman’s head. After being bundled into a police van, he heard one officer express doubts that they had the real culprit. “No, it’s him,” said the other officer. “Anyway, they all look alike, don’t they?” The young man was convicted, even though witnesses said the brick-thrower was tall – this man was short; and even though the police said they had to chase him through the housing estate because he had run away from them and up a flight of stairs to his flat – which he couldn’t have done because he was disabled. He got 6 years in jail, but luckily it was shortened because lots of people made a fuss. But he never got his conviction quashed. There were no cameras in the Hackney case and no facial recognition technology. Just 2 policemen who were “just doing our duty, sir”.
    Gawd ‘elp us all, now they’ve got “rapidly improving” technology.
Here’s the article:
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