Facial recognition in use at King's Cross…

Facial recognition in use at King's Cross…

Reports on facial recognition being used at King’s Cross and the idea that it should be implemented at Canary Wharf is a very interesting matter. Is it legit? Has permission been sought? And why are there no signs warning of its use?

These questions are so far unanswered. One thing is clear – its all to do with security. If its actually in use at King’s Cross then its a way of keeping an eye on certain undesirables and perhaps even evicting them from the said premises if necessary.

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The article that revealed facial recognition was in use at King’s Cross. Source: Twitter

The big question for me then, is why do these companies want to develop these locations as ‘public places’ especially if the downsides of these places eventually emerge and flourish? Inevitable there are going to be those who cause trouble, shoplift goods, whatever. Its pretty inevitable. I think these sort of things have to have allowances made for and ways sought to mitigate these risks rather than depend on things like facial recognition.

If the properties’ owners do not like it, perhaps both King’s Cross and Canary Wharf should be made gated communities. Communities just for the exclusive and where there’s no free movement either in or out.

I am sure the retailers at these locations would suffer badly as a result of that if they were to make these places into such controlled environments. The prime reason for having these locations open as public spaces (pseudo-public if one prefers) are of course the shops, keep fit gyms, and other facilities (restaurants, bars) which add considerably to the income of these companies. The income in turn delights their shareholders, besides gratuitous mega-bonuses for their directors! Nice isn’t it?

But let’s remember, freedom comes with a cost.

#FacialRecognition tech affects how we interact with public spaces. Surveillance distorts non-criminal behaviour. If it’s rolled out on our streets in ways that we can’t discern, you’re effectively using an instrument of social control. Source: Twitter (Liberty)

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I think its only since Coal Drops yard was opened that cameras with facial recognition technology have been installed. This particular camera was being installed at Coal Drops Yard on the 25th October 2018 – the day the shopping centre opened.

From a personal viewpoint, I would think yes they specifically have cameras at Coal Drops Yard that are capable of facial recognition. But are they actually being used for that purpose? I’m not sure. If they are indeed being used for this purpose, well it likely means trouble for the site’s management – unless they have a pretty good excuse for it.

Some say if the technology is used in a certain way, in other words just to track someone who is suspected of something, and no data is collected on anyone else at all, then it is indeed quite permissible.

I must admit I’m no expert when it comes to facial technology and the law behind it. But if its being used covertly to gather data on lots of people then it indeed isn’t permissible unless a special application has been made for it.

The recent revelation in the Financial Times that the equipment does appears to be in use for the express use of this particular kind of surveillance has upset a lot of people, including it seems the Mayor of London.

At this stage its perhaps best that Argent and the King’s Cross management come up with an explanation as to what is happening and what is being done with this technology. Personally I don’t think they are actually using it, except in the very limited way I have mentioned a few paragraphs back.

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Cameras trained towards Coal Drops Yard (on the left) and along the Regent’s Canal ( on the right.)

Of course if the venue were to suffer a whole host of problems, numerous thefts, damage, vandalism, many other things, well they at least have the place readily covered in depth and they only need authorisation and the necessary paperwork put forward to use the equipment in this new and different way.

Even so, there are still many downsides….

These companies want the world at their feet, people coming in their droves and spending money, elevating the very prestige of their precious sites and taking positive feedback – in the hope others will hear of this and more people will want to flock to these places.

As I have written elsewhere Coal Drops Yard specifically has a problem with footfall. Although it has improved somewhat, I dont think I don’t think the management really want to use facial recognition in the way they are said to be using it because they would not want to scare people away and lose potential revenue.

Nevertheless the matter has concerned some quite alarmingly with both the Information Commissioner’s Office and London’s Mayor approaching Argent to seek clarification on what is being done at King’s Cross and whether its legit.

If King’s Cross is wanting facial recognition well it seems to me they’ve without a doubt learnt there are downsides to their public spaces, and perhaps its that its been poorly designed – rather like many of those fantastic sixties housing estates which soon turned out to be a mugger’s paradise.

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Oops! That attempt at control didn’t work did it? Source: Twitter

An architect has designs he wants to see used and these are applauded by many for the unique approach, the different subtle styling touches and so on, but it may be that putting the place to work and finding that the reality is very different is what is happening. But it should not mean that the response has to be facial recognition. It just makes it worse.

Its a bit like providing a new park or public space with a lot of green lawn and building dedicated hard surface footpaths around these places. Inevitably people do not want to walk these footways because they are too far round, they would rather take a short cut. One begins to see well worn pathways made across the grass instead because the short cut is so much more convenient. See The Guardian.

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Managed expectation versus peoples’ realities. Result – a short cut! Source: Twitter

This shows peoples’ expectations and their eventual realities is very different to the managed expectations of the providers. In other words a very nice shopping centre with oodles of tempting attractions isn’t going to reduce in any way the intents of those with a malice or an intent for wrong doing.

If any monitoring, fingerprinting, facial recognition, constant surveillance of peoples’ movements and so on is deemed necessary as being perfunctory to the effectiveness of what’s considered to be a normal society – then it seems there are major problems ahead.

One has to remember these spaces are to all purposes and intents public even though they are private land – because let’s face it, freedom of movement is apparently where the money comes. There is only so much that can be done to prevent certain things happening. I mean, for a start they cannot simply forbid people to stop breathing!

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Coal Drops Yard has a huge number of cameras on site. In comparison Granary Square has just a handful. I was amazed to count so many cameras in close proximity to each other. At least five can be seen in the above picture!

Often we read of certain types of people, the police, security, lawyers, judges, business people, even transport staff, TfL, revenue inspectors, doing things they shouldn’t do outside of their own houses (as well as sometimes in their own houses too) such as crime, embezzlement, cheating, violence, or worse.

Thus it would be no surprise to find some who have advocated and implemented facial technology criticising the same system elsewhere – simply because they had been caught light fingered or been embroiled in a fight! Caught out by the very thing they had supported in their own workplaces.

It does turn out this sort of thing occurs with depressing regularity – take a tally on the Met Police and one will be amazed at the number of officers who have committed very serious offences. One would think the police should be the primary example of what should not be done, but its rarely the case. One wonders about the effectiveness of any system and its instigators when the same ethics are not being applied elsewhere.

Facial Technology evidently makes too many mistakes – but at the same time the irony in the news report above is quite obvious. There are lawyers too who get their hands caught in dirty pies! And it wasn’t facial recognition that caught them out!

Instead of facial technology perhaps these companies should really re-think their aspirations, such as what it means to have pseudo public spaces that are completely open and the fact the world and its discontents are allowed in without any further ado – or whether they want to have places where only certain privileged people have any right of use.

If someone is offering an exclusive range of goods its gong to be no surprise that other people will want to lift the products on offer. Its practically human infallibility. Certain people want to steal, or undertake a whole spectrum of bad deeds for all sorts of reasons, and in essence its very difficult to find effective ways to stop these sort of things.

On the other hand it seems to me that we are too ready to impose a solution that is in essence a ‘short, sharp shock.’ I think insidious forms of control do not help but aggravate the situations and in that respect I think we have a very long road ahead of us in wanting to make society a better place without infringing on peoples’ rights and advocating a very strange, perverse, sort of ethics.

Its not to say that these persons shouldn’t be punished for their actions. There are wrongs and there are rights no doubt. You might think I am someone who advocates wrong doing. Far from it. I abhor wrong doing. In fact I have been slated by others for being too moralistic. As a matter of fact I am very strict about the notion of being right. But at the same time I do not endorse authoritarian ideals or similar in any way or any form.

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Camera being used to monitor people coming off the canal towpath at King’s Cross. It may be one of the candidates in use for facial technology – but until we find out more about the situation one cannot be sure.

We need to have a better understanding and a greater congizance as to where all this is heading (eg facial recognition) because in my view the idea of becoming more totalitarian and having more intensive surveillance in the long term is not going to do society any good.

What I have to say is its clear some of this stuff doesn’t work. Even with facial recognition in use crimes will still happen. We need to find better ways to encourage the good, the amenable and facilitate a better and more tolerant, ethical, wider, social cohesion without the usual pitfalls and downsides.

In essence it means finding ways to reduce problems without becoming authoritarian, dictatorial, overbearing, totalitarian and the rest of it. A new cognizance is urgently needed. Facial recognition is simply not part of this process. Its considerably recessive in terms of its wanting to control people and should never be seen as a ready made response for society’s ills.