How Facial Recognition Tech Is Being Used In London By Shops – and Police

“Within less than a minute, I’m approached by a store worker who comes up to me and says, ‘You’re a thief, you need to leave the store’.”

That’s a quote from the BBC by a wrongly accused customer who was flagged by a facial-recognition system called Facewatch. “She says after her bag was searched she was led out of the shop, and told she was banned from all stores using the technology.”

Facewatch later wrote to her and acknowledged it had made an error — but declined to comment on the incident in the BBC’s report:

[Facewatch] did say its technology helped to prevent crime and protect frontline workers. Home Bargains, too, declined to comment. It’s not just retailers who are turning to the technology… [I]n east London, we joined the police as they positioned a modified white van on the high street. Cameras attached to its roof captured thousands of images of people’s faces. If they matched people on a police watchlist, officers would speak to them and potentially arrest them…

On the day we were filming, the Metropolitan Police said they made six arrests with the assistance of the tech… The BBC spoke to several people approached by the police who confirmed that they had been correctly identified by the system — 192 arrests have been made so far this year as a result of it.
Lindsey Chiswick, director of intelligence for the Met, told the BBC that “It takes less than a second for the technology to create a biometric image of a person’s face, assess it against the bespoke watchlist and automatically delete it when there is no match.”

“That is the correct and acceptable way to do it,” writes long-time Slashdot reader Baron_Yam, “without infringing unnecessarily on the freedoms of the average citizen. Just tell me they have appropriate rules, effective oversight, and a penalty system with teeth to catch and punish the inevitable violators.”

But one critic of the tech complains to the BBC that everyone scanned automatically joins “a digital police line-up,” while the article adds that others “liken the process to a supermarket checkout — where your face becomes a bar code.” And “The error count is much higher once someone is actually flagged. One in 40 alerts so far this year has been a false positive…”

Thanks to Slashdot reader Bruce66423 for sharing the article.

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London’s Evening Standard To End Daily Newspaper After Almost 200 Years

London’s famed Evening Standard newspaper has announced plans to end its daily outlet, “bringing an end to almost 200 years of publication in the capital,” reports The Guardian. Going forward, the company plans to launch “a brand new weekly newspaper later this year and consider options for retaining ES Magazine with reduced frequency,” while also working to increase traffic to its website. “In its 197-year history the Evening Standard has altered its format, price, content and distribution models,” notes The Guardian. “But giving up on producing a daily print newspaper is the biggest change yet.” From the report: The newspaper said it has been hit hard by the introduction of wifi on the London Underground, a shortage of commuters owing to the growth of working from home and changing consumer habits. The Standard lost 84.5 million pounds in the past six years, according to its accounts, and is reliant on funding from its part-owner Evgeny Lebedev. Its other shareholders include a bank with close links to the Saudi government. Industry sources suggested Lebedev had been willing to consider selling the outlet in recent years but no buyer was found.

Paul Kanareck, the newspaper’s chair, told staff on Wednesday morning: “The substantial losses accruing from the current operations are not sustainable. Therefore, we plan to consult with our staff and external stakeholders to reshape the business, return to profitability and secure the long-term future of the number one news brand in London.” Kanareck said there would be an “impact on staffing,” with journalists bracing themselves for further job losses on top of years of redundancies, while design staff on the print edition are expected to be hit hard. Distributors who hand out the newspaper across London are also likely to be out of work, and billboards outside railway stations advertising the day’s headline will stand empty on most days.

He suggested there would be a change in focus for the weekly outlet: “A proposed new weekly newspaper would replace the daily publication, allowing for more in-depth analysis of the issues that matter to Londoners, and serve them in a new and relevant way by celebrating the best London has to offer, from entertainment guides to lifestyle, sports, culture and news and the drumbeat of life in the world’s greatest city.” Closing the Evening Standard will mean that for the first time in centuries, Londoners will have no general-interest daily print newspaper. The finance-focused City AM, which was recently saved by the billionaire Matthew Moulding, will continue to publish four days a week and has recently increased its distribution. Further reading: So it’s goodbye to London’s Standard, my old paper — and to the heart of democracy, local news (Opinion; The Guardian)

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UK To Ban Disposable Vapes

In an announcement earlier today, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said single-use vapes will be banned in Britain, with certain flavors restricted and regulations put in place around their packaging and displays. The New York Times reports: Mr. Sunak said that the ban, which is part of legislation that still has to be approved by Parliament, was intended to halt “one of the most worrying trends at the moment,” before it becomes “endemic.” “The long-term impacts of vaping are unknown and the nicotine within them can be highly addictive, so while vaping can be a useful tool to help smokers quit, marketing vapes to children is not acceptable,” he said in a statement. Andrea Leadsom, Britain’s health minister, said the measures were intended to make sure that vapes were aimed at adults who were quitting smoking, rather than children.

“Nicotine is highly addictive — and so it is completely unacceptable that children are getting their hands on these products, many of which are undeniably designed to appeal to young people,” she said in a statement. […] While it is not illegal for people under 18 to smoke or vape in Britain, it is illegal for those products to be sold to them. By banning disposable vapes, and restricting the flavors and packaging of refillable vapes, the government hopes to make it far less likely that young people will experiment with e-cigarettes.

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UK ‘Barking Up Wrong Tree’ Trying To Get Over-50s Back To Work, Report Finds

Rishi Sunak’s government is “barking up the wrong tree” by trying to get people in retirement back to work to fix chronic staff shortages, according to a report that warns long-term sickness and pressure on the NHS is having a bigger impact on the jobs market. From a report: The sharp rise in economic inactivity — when working-age adults are neither in work nor looking for a job — is more likely to be driven by people waiting for treatment as the health service struggles to cope, as well as by people who permanently live in poorer health, according to the consultancy LCP. “There is a real risk of the government barking up the wrong tree when it comes to the growth in economic inactivity,” the report says.

It comes as the work and pensions secretary, Mel Stride, enters the final stages of an urgent review of options to boost workforce participation before next month’s budget. The government has so far focused on addressing early retirement, with the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, urging the over-50s to get off the golf course. Official figures published last week showed early retirement explains none of the increase in inactivity since the start of the pandemic. While the number of people who are economically inactive is more than half a million higher than in February 2020, the number who have quit the labour market due to retirement has fallen. Sir Steve Webb, the former pensions minister who co-authored the LCP report, said rising long-term sickness was much more significant.

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UK Ditches Ban On ‘Legal But Harmful’ Online Content In Favor of Free Speech

Britain will not force tech giants to remove content that is “legal but harmful” from their platforms after campaigners and lawmakers raised concerns that the move could curtail free speech, the government said on Monday. Reuters reports: Online safety laws would instead focus on the protection of children and on ensuring companies removed content that was illegal or prohibited in their terms of service, it said, adding that it would not specify what legal content should be censored. Platform owners, such as Facebook-owner Meta and Twitter, would be banned from removing or restricting user-generated content, or suspending or banning users, where there is no breach of their terms of service or the law, it said.

The government had previously said social media companies could be fined up to 10% of turnover or 18 million pounds ($22 million) if they failed to stamp out harmful content such as abuse even if it fell below the criminal threshold, while senior managers could also face criminal action. The proposed legislation, which had already been beset by delays and rows before the latest version, would remove state influence on how private companies managed legal speech, the government said. It would also avoid the risk of platforms taking down legitimate posts to avoid sanctions. […]

The revised Online Safety Bill, which returns to parliament next month, puts the onus on tech companies to take down material in breach of their own terms of service and to enforce their user age limits to stop children circumventing authentication methods, the government said. If users were likely to encounter controversial content such as the glorification of eating disorders, racism, anti-Semitism or misogyny not meeting the criminal threshold, the platform would have to offer tools to help adult users avoid it, it said. Only if platforms failed to uphold their own rules or remove criminal content could a fine of up to 10% of annual turnover apply. Britain said late on Saturday that a new criminal offense of assisting or encouraging self-harm online would be included in the bill.

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Everyone Is Bullying the UK Government In Its Own Discord Server

The UK Treasury has opened an account on Discord to a torrent of abuse from users of the gamer-focused chat app — abuse they managed to send despite the government blocking all comments on the service. The Guardian reports: With its community-focused approach, where servers encourage tight-knit groups to form and discuss issues related to the overall focus of the topic, Discord may seem an odd fit for the strait-laced world of government communications. But the app has a lot of users interested in finance, thanks to solid take-up among day traders and crypto fans, two groups the Treasury is eager to connect with. The result: a read-only Discord server, where the only user who is allowed to post is the snappily named HMTreasurySocialAdmin1, who shares tweet-length news about the Treasury and chancellor.

But trolls will always find a way. Although posting is banned, emoji reactions are enabled, letting any user respond to a post from the Treasury with a single emoji, and new users are cheerily announced in a “welcome” channel. That means the Treasury’s server has been eagerly posting automated messages such as, “Welcome, LOCK UP PRINCE ANDREW. We hope you brought pizza,” and “Welcome Jeremy Corbyn. Say hi!”. The latter does not appear to be the real account of the former leader of the opposition. […] UPDATE: Emoji reactions and the welcome channel vanished but eventually returned. According to the HM Treasure admin, Discord is the reason to blame for the issues.

“Due to the rapid growth of today’s channel which has seen over 7,000 members join, a technical difficulty has led to reactions being paused,” a post in the news channel read. “We are working with Discord to get reactions turned back on.” The trolling can be continued here.

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Rishi Sunak Is the First Crypto Enthusiast To Serve In UK’s Top Office

Gizmodo points out that the United Kingdom’s next prime minister, Rishi Sunak, “is a certified Crypto Bro who once requested that the Royal Mint issue an NFT.” From the report: During his tenure as finance minister under former PM Boris Johnson, Sunak was in charge of advancing a number of crypto-related initiatives that sought to normalize digital currencies and integrate them into the British economy. By all accounts, he is the first crypto enthusiast to serve in the UK’s top office. He’s also the first person of color and the youngest PM — 42 years old — that Britain’s had in 200 years. To be fair, Sunak’s efforts at crypto promotion have at least trended towards regulation and taxation as opposed to total laissez faire deregulated madness — though those efforts could, ultimately, simply normalize a phenomenon that critics say is redundant at best and a privacy hazard at worst. In April, Sunak announced a series of programs to turn the UK into what he called a “global cryptoasset technology hub.” Among the initiatives announced at the time was a plan to integrate stablecoins into the national payment system, thus “paving their way for use in the UK as a recognized form of payment.” Considered to be the least volatile form of cryptocurrency, stablecoins have seen more interest by governments than other forms of crypto — though projects like Terra and Tether have shown the potential danger in putting too much faith in the assets’ stability.

Sunak’s plans also suggested creating additional regulations that would’ve helped further incorporate crypto into the UK’s economic and legal framework, thus spurring greater investment in the space. “The measures we’ve outlined today will help to ensure firms can invest, innovate and scale up in this country,” Sunak wrote in a press release published at the time. Another ambitious initiative pushed by Sunak was the Financial Services and Markets Bill, a piece of legislation that would give local governments in Britain broad discretion to regulate cryptocurrencies, thus further assimilating them into the nation’s economy. The bill, which has not yet passed, is currently being looked at by Parliament.

At the same time, Sunak also recently backed a study to look at the potential benefits of creating a central bank digital currency (CBDC), or “Britcoin” as he dubbed it. Proponents of CBDCs argue that they could have benefits for spenders, making payments “faster, cheaper, and more secure,” as one op-ed puts it. However, critics argue that they are unnecessary and could ultimately spell huge privacy troubles, given the trackable nature of crypto and digital currencies. Despite his crypto track record, analysts have suggested that is is unlikely Sunak will have time to focus much on any web3-related initiatives in the near term. Given Britain’s current economic dumpster fire, any work on “Britcoin” might have to take a backseat.

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