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    UK Makes First Arrest Using Controversial Facial Recognition Technology

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    After a period of extensive trials, the United Kingdom has marked its first arrest based on automatic facial recognition (ACR) technology, after a man was apprehended by South Wales police.

    It was revealed in April that, ahead of the UEFA Champions League final at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium, South Wales police were scanning the faces "of people at strategic locations in and around the city centre." 

    It isn’t clear whether the man arrested on May 31 was taken into custody as a direct result of that testing, but a police spokesman told Ars Technica, "It was a local man and unconnected to the Champions League." 

    Though authorities didn’t elucidate the nature of the arrest, Ars Technica concluded that the man was identified using a database of 500,000 mugshots called the "Niche Record Management system," which features "an integrated mobile field reporting capability that seamlessly operates over very low bandwidth radio networks, as well as offline in remote locations via the disconnected mode," according to the Niche website.

    South Wales police have now expressed their desire to have a wide-scale deployment of the ACR technology.

    "The world we live in is changing and with that comes a need to change the way we police," Assistant Chief Constable Richard Lewis said. "We are investing in ensuring our officers have the tools and technology needed to most effectively protect our communities. As technology evolves into the future, so too will the way our police force operates."

    Alun Michael, South Wales police and crime commissioner, also spoke about the force’s interest in using facial recognition to delve into "pre-crime," a rather controversial kind of predictive technology similar to that seen in the movie "Minority Report," which highlights someone as a person of interest before they’ve actually committed a crime.

    Michael said, "Our approach to policing is very much centred upon early intervention and prompt, positive action; the introduction of facial recognition helps to support these aims by allowing us to identify vulnerability, challenge perpetrators, and reduce instances of offending within environments where the technology is deployed."

    There are 5.9 million closed circuit cameras in the UK, roughly 1 per every 11 people. Police in Leicestershire began conducting trials runs of the NeoFace facial recognition software two years ago, eventually integrating with the FaceWatch software that allowed business owners to view still images from CCTV footage to share with police after a crime is committed.

    Wales Online quoted a police spokeswoman saying, "South Wales Police has made significant progress in the development of its technology in the past 18 months, and that work is only set to continue as we strive to ensure we arm our officers with the very best technology commercially available – providing the public benefit is both proven and justifiable."

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    Tags:
    Arrest, CCTV cameras, surveillance cameras, face recognition, Wales, United Kingdom
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