The idea of facial recognition cameras monitoring London may sound like the plot of the latest episode of Black Mirror, but it’s become a reality today.

The Met Police has announced that it’s rolling out facial recognition cameras across the UK capital in the hopes of tackling ‘serious crime.’

The Live Facial Recognition (LFR) kit will be deployed in specific London locations to help tackle serious crime including violence, gun and knife crime, child sexual exploitation and terrorism.

Trials showed a one in a thousand false reading and police are confident it will be a valuable tool in tackling crime.

The kit consists of two cameras and a laptop with a bespoke watch list made up of images of wanted individuals, predominantly those wanted for serious and violent crimes.

They plan to start using it in a month in operations lasting five or six hours.

New Scotland Yard

Every list will be tailored to its deployment which will be in particular areas that police are looking for specific criminals.

Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave (cor), who wore his left arm in a sling following a bike accident, made the announcement at New Scotland Yard today (Fri).

He said: "LFR is a fantastic crime fighting tool. It is bringing technology to bear on a police approach that has been going on since policing began, showing officers photos of people, asking to memorise that person and if they can engage with them and make that arrest.

"LFR enhances that ability. LFR makes no decisions. All LFR does is suggest the person."

Commissioner Mark McEwan said the technology could be used for counter terrorism purposes and in "here and now" operations such as the London Bridge attacks.

He said: "It is a possibility that it could be used in terms of counter terrorism. That would very much be a 'here and now' operation.

"The type of deployment we are talking about now is quite considered and well planned.

Facial recognition

"But it is also possible to deploy it in a critical time frame, whether that is London Bridge or a serial rapist such as McCann."

At deployment, cameras will be focused on a small, targeted area to scan passers-by.

The cameras will be clearly signposted, officers deployed to the operation will hand out leaflets about the activity, and it is hoped community stakeholders will be told about the process days in advance to help keep the public informed.

The technology, which is a standalone system, is not linked to any other imaging system, such as CCTV, body worn video or number plate recognition cameras.

A possible match will trigger an alert to the officers' mobile phones who will decide whether to approach the individual.

For those who are not on the watchlist, their faces will appear pixelated and subsequently be deleted from the system.

Commr McEwan said: "Every watch list is bespoke and based on the deployment.

"But there will be people who are wanted by the courts for a very serious crime and in that case, it would be proportionate and necessary for that person to be included because they may show up and that would satisfy the legal requirement and the public expect us to do this."

Officers said they will learn from recent trials where concerns were raised at Stratford where an unmarked green police van was used and signage was said to be unclear and not at eye level.

The Met said this is not a Trojan Horse or an advanced pilot for more covert operations.

AC Ephgrave said it will be a "no surprises approach" but concerns were raised following trials where the public were unaware an LFR operation was underway.

Police were unable to confirm whether a marked police van will be deployed, or an unmarked van which was used during its trial and said it depends on what is available on the day.

In a recent survey, 80 per cent of people said they were in favour of using the technology.

Each want list database is made at least 24 hours prior to each operation and can hold the profiles of up to 10,000 wanted people at police have used a list of up to 2,500 to date.

AC Ephgrave said: "We make the want list 24 hours before because we do not want the want list to contain people that have been arrested in the last 24 hours."

Questions were raised over why the operations had to be covert and as to whether informing the public of the cameras would reduce its effectiveness.

AC Ephgrave said: "We are trying to get the balance right between right to privacy and our legal mandate to fight crime.

"We want to take a very considered approach to this and not rush. Who knows how things will develop over the next few years but ultimately the intention is this is how we are going to be deploying this - in an overt way."

Police said officers could also make the decision to approach people who appear to leave the area where cameras are deployed in certain situations.

Commr McEwan said: "This is not a Trojan Horse or an advanced pilot for covert operations. That is not how we see it.

"The public expect us to use everything we can to achieve our policing purpose of keeping everyone safe.

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Facial recognition

"We are in the business of balancing human rights and the right to private life for everybody but also ensuring people have the right to public life free from harm.

"Then there are missing vulnerable people such as children and elderly people with dementia whose families want them found.

"We are committed to balancing the trust and confidence of how we do that in a responsible way and that is why we are informing the community and the public of this."

AC Ephgrave said the new technology can also take a similar approach to traditional methods of searching for missing people.

He said: "We get an image that is usually provided by the family and use it in campaigns where we think the child is likely to be seen. I think the methodology would apply similarly to what we do with posters."

But he said the new technology is not a "silver bullet" and that he "cannot predict the future" when asked where this may lead.

He said: "While it is really exciting and innovative, it is not on its own a silver bullet. It is not going to solve all the problems but it is a really important tool for our officers to use to enable us to better get to grips particularly with serious offenders who are wanted for violent crime.

"I am not in the business of predicting the future. We are taking the approach in this that we are using this overtly. It is always interesting to know what the public think. Let's take one step at a time.

"The important thing is to make sure this is effective in fighting crime."

Studies have shown no difference in algorithm based on ethnicity but that those for women are less accurate than men.

Met Police Senior technologist Johanna Morley said: "Our studies have shown that with respect to different ethnicities, there is no difference with which the algorithm behaves.

"With respect to genders, there are some differences. It is generally less accurate with recognising women."