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AI Case Study

The London Metropolitan Police trial facial recognition in central areas to identify wanted persons during the holiday season

The London Metropolitan Police have deployed facial recognition in busy shopping areas of central London during the holiday season to match people in real-time to a database of wanted persons. However, the efficacy, ethics, and legality of the Met's system have been called into question.


Public And Social Sector


Project Overview

"The system scans live footage to send out alerts for potential matches between people on the street and a wanted database, which are then reviewed by officers on the ground. They decide whether to stop people for further identity checks. The leaflet handed out by police said live images are not stored and that only those flagged as a potential match with a wanted person will be retained. The cameras were to run for eight hours on both Monday and Tuesday, moving around the Soho, Piccadilly Circus and Leicester Square areas." However, the system has been met with criticism from rights' groups who say the police have not been particularly forthcoming about its use: "no one questioned by The Independent after they passed through a scanning zone in Cambridge Circus on Monday had seen police publicity material."

Furthermore, while the Metropolitan Police have said that "Anyone who declines to be scanned during the deployment will not be viewed as suspicious by police officers. There must be additional information available to support such a view", it has been reported that "plain-clothed officers told them they had been told to consider stopping anyone who avoided the cameras." According to a January 2019 update, 8 out of 10 planned trials by the Metropolitan Police have been conducted and there will be a full evaluation afterwards.

Reported Results

An update from January 2019 reveals that the December trial resulted in "two people wanted for violence offences being arrested". However, "The Metropolitan Police’s software was found to be returning 'false positives' in more than 98 per cent of alerts earlier this year but the force has not released statistics on the current round of trials, which started in June." The use of the technology continues to be debated by civil rights groups.


Details undisclosed



General Operations


"Christmas shoppers and tourists in London’s West End are being scanned by controversial facial recognition technology that has been labelled “Orwellian” by critics. The Metropolitan Police said its latest trial deployment would be “overt” and that members of the public would be informed by posters and leaflets."



"For the West End trial, the Metropolitan Police used a list of 1,600 wanted people as part of ongoing efforts to reduce crime and tackling violence."

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