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The London Riots and Facial Recognition Technology 482

nonprofiteer writes "A bunch of vigilantes are organizing a Google Group dedicated to using recently revealed facial recognition tools to identify looters in the London riots. While Vancouver discussed doing something similar after the Stanley Cup riots, the city never actually moved forward on it. Ring of Steel London, though, is far more likely to incorporate FRT into its investigative work." A related article points out how development of face-recognition technology has been kept under wraps by some organizations, but we're getting to the point where it'll soon be ubiquitous.
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The London Riots and Facial Recognition Technology

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  • by Syphonius ( 11602 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @02:36AM (#37040992) Homepage

    Could we find a more loaded term than that? I don't think so. Heaven forbid some folks actually try to glom together and do good.

    • And it's not even an accurate use off the term to boot.

    • i believe that's the correct word.

      • by smallfries ( 601545 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @06:02AM (#37041888) Homepage

        Why on earth would your beliefs be in any way relevant? Are you aware that the machine in front of you allows you to search for information so that you can test your beliefs. Shocking, eh?

        A member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily (as when the processes of law are viewed as inadequate)

        The key point of the definition is that a vigilante takes extra-legal action; a vigilante is one who acts outside of the existing legal framework. Publishing the identity of the looters is not operating outside of the law. In fact it actually supports the official effort to identify looters from video shot during the riots. Only acting on the identities to go and mete out some kind of illegal retribution would be vigilante action, and as there is no suggestion that they will do so the use of the word is loaded as the GP originally stated.

    • by prefec2 ( 875483 )

      In an European context, vigilantes are also criminals, as the only organization which is allowed to use force is the state, which is legitimatized by the citizens.

      On a side note: The problems in the UK are the same as in France or other countries. You people without a perspective and treated as second class citizens do not accept the state as their institution. They perceive the state as their enemy. In the UK they used CCTV to keep these people under surveillance which results in two things:
      a) Crimes move

      • by rbrausse ( 1319883 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:14AM (#37041394)

        You people without a perspective and treated as second class citizens do not accept the state as their institution. They perceive the state as their enemy. [..] People get even more suppressed (at least they feel that way) which can erupt at any time.

        slightly off-topic. this msnbc blog entry [] shows some interesting insight in the dynamics of the group:

        a Londoner when asked by a television reporter: Is rioting the correct way to express your discontent?

        "Yes," said the young man. "You wouldn't be talking to me now if we didn't riot, would you?"

        The TV reporter from Britain's ITV had no response. So the young man pressed his advantage. "Two months ago we marched to Scotland Yard, more than 2,000 of us, all blacks, and it was peaceful and calm and you know what? Not a word in the press. Last night a bit of rioting and looting and look around you."

        • by Hazel Bergeron ( 2015538 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @05:06AM (#37041578) Journal

          Mod parent up. When people are out of "civilised" ways to put across their message, they resort to violence. This isn't violence with a direct aim - e.g. as the violence by the US in the Middle East is subjugation of strategically important areas - this is violence as a way of saying "I'm fed up and someone to take notice!" If you loved your society, you wouldn't destroy it. If, as a young man (or teen, it seems), you do not feel a sense of belonging and love and support - if you are not given the opportunity to contribute - then why would you value what is around you?

          The looters coming in after the riots are being emphasised because it's pretty hard to argue about the social plight of someone who runs off with a 42 inch TV "because I can". There is a massive PR exercise to paint this as merely thieves thieving. There's also a PC exercise to avoid pointing out the cultural make-up of rioters - predominantly black in some areas, white in others - because people are so afraid of thinking they're implying "black people are criminals!" rather than "youths in black communities in central London are alienated and have no voice, no meaningful representation and no opportunity to do anything about it". We have moved on from overt police racism of the '80s (and well done to the police for doing that) but we have not moved on from the power dominance of a single culture in Britain.

          Unfortunately, in any class struggle (sorry, Torys, that's exactly what it is!), these sorts of organic riots tend to result in more oppression. It may do something to raise awareness, but absent an organised army it is only joint peaceful action which tends to effect change. In particular, had the unions not been so far up New Labour's arse over the last decade that the wider working population would be forgiven for remembering who they were created to serve, they would have opposed changing market and labour conditions.

          In short, it still takes a village to raise a child. Even the most stable and loving family (which, as anyone knows, inner London is full of) can only do so much. When the average boy turns 16 - and we're not talking about the geniuses of the world, but the majority of average ability - society has the choice to lift him up or to leave him to fend on his own. Where resources exceed demand, he might be able to do the latter. Where they do not, what should he endure? And, if you have not helped him, what gives you the right to tell him what is right and wrong? Even if you think you have some natural superiority, what makes you think the young man will listen?

          • by kraut ( 2788 )

            > When people are out of "civilised" ways to put across their message, they resort to violence
            It's 2011. There are a gazillion ways to put across your message, completely for free. You're using one of them right now.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @07:32AM (#37042278)

          That's an indictment of the press, nothing more.

          I live in Clapham Junction about 100m from the center of the riots there. I was down there there watching. Most of the kids (and they were kids) were having a great time, throwing bottle and having a laugh - I didn't see anyone I'd describe as angry.

          All night people were wandering up my street stashing loot in rubbish bins, then coming back later to collect and load into cars that were doing the rounds. Nice cars, bit boy-racerish for me but not cheap. The ones that were seen "stealing milk and baby clothes" were no more significant than the ones stealing shampoo - there are cases of it on my street - and I suspect they were just a little late to the party. A friends sister saw her neighbours kids walking home with a TV each - a 2 bedroom house on that street will go for £400,000.

          Yes, there's undoubtedly some alienation but there bigger problem is the unwarranted sense of entitlement - "I deserve a TV", "I'm getting my taxes back". As a genuine guardian reading, hand-wringing socialist leftie I didn't see a great deal of urban alienation on display, but I did see a great deal of self-absorbed greed.

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      It's only a loaded term if you have a belief that vigilantism is always inherently bad.

      Personally, I'm not convinced it is, so to see them called vigilantes doesn't give me a bad impression those folks.

      Sometimes vigilantes can be real heroes, sometimes they can be complete idiots. Take the case in hand and decide for yourself what kind of vigilantes they are, don't assume they're always inherently bad.

    • by mvar ( 1386987 )

      Heaven forbid some folks actually try to glom together and do good.

      Not always []

  • Anti camera tech (Score:5, Interesting)

    by irp ( 260932 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @02:38AM (#37041006)

    Reminds me: Somewhere on the internet is a description of how to build an anti-camera cap. Basically a baseball cap with a battery, and a row of powerful IR emitters along the rim. It utilizes that most security cameras can see into the IR, so the camera will gain down and leave the face in darkness, or at least distort it enough to nullify automated face recognition. Can be used during transport, where wearing a cap is not as suspicious as covering the face. ... Or will it soon be so that anyone not instantly recognized will automatically be a suspect? :-)

    • Fortunately, most rioters are morons and will not go through the trouble of building (much less remembering to wear) an anti-camera ball cap.

      • > most rioters are morons

        I've read they coordinated themselves via smartphones/Twitter and actually blinded the expensive camera systems first, undoubtedly the expensive CCTV system will get targeted unless hidden.
        • by AHuxley ( 892839 )
          I am sure all that digital traffic is been recorded and sorted in real time - face, voice prints, ip's.
          Roof tops, intelligence teams, air surveillance. The facial math for eye position, nose, lip is not too expensive to compare to every id photo in the UK.
          In the near term its gathering all the electronic data in near real time and acting on it with a lot of snatch squads night after night.
          Long term elite units fresh from colonial wars will start getting "supplies", images and maps ready.
          • Re:Anti camera tech (Score:5, Interesting)

            by webmistressrachel ( 903577 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:33AM (#37041464) Journal

            No, our police are wayto soft and stupid for that on this occasion.

            Don't worry, I'll qualify this, I'm not trolling tonight, I'm deadly serious.

            For years I've been filming and photographing peaceful demos here in Manchester (where it kicked off last night). When it was hippies, Green Party Comrades, and slightly biased press (count me in!), they used pyschological tactics like kettling, horse-trampling, and good planning, because we announce where we going and why well in advance (in accordance with our new Anti-Terrorist laws for peaceful protests - yes you read that right)

            They had uniform photographers which were highly visible, and others cleverly hidden on roofs and in windows nearby. These guys were shooting top-end Canons with long 500mm lenses, yes I did chat to a few and they were specialists, not bobbies showing off nice SLRs to scare us.

            Last night nothing like that was in evidence at all. They were charging anybody and everybody in their way (including me and other indie and staff journos hefting my SLRs), herding crowds of non-violent protesters along with the thugs, whilst completely ignoring looters. The above post just isn't accurate at all, and if anything they fought a losing battle again.

            The BBC are totally in their pocket - [] - it's the only way they can avoid having their cameras nicked. Our (indie) stuff isn't being broadcast anywhere yet, and the youths aren't bothering us, they're giving us a great show! A lot of them WANT to be photographed grinning. And a lot of them can articulate their political views very intelligently. And they're not copypasta ' ing each other either, they each have their own particular reasoning. They're human beings.

            And on that note, I must relay a personal experience of mine last night. Staring down the eyepiece of a camera, I made eye contact with a "Robocop" riot officer looking at my camera and then rapidly side to side, and then at the camera again. I nearly cried, and I removed the camera from between with us and just bonded with him for a few seconds.

            Nobody should be mixed up in a all this. "Them" or "Us" alike. Those police can end this right now by turning around, and enforcing the people's will on those who have caused these problems, since, well whenever. Those with the boot on the face of humanity.

            • Re:Anti camera tech (Score:5, Interesting)

              by webmistressrachel ( 903577 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:44AM (#37041502) Journal

              I didn't explain that beautiful moment properly, I didn't do him justice.

              Despite all that armour, the weaponry, and his comrades flanking him, that officer in that moment was scared, scared of me, scared of the camera, scared of the idea (speculation begins) that maybe, just maybe they shouldn't be there and neither should we, and we both knew the reasons underlying it all.

              Sharing that moment with him, and him seeing my expression and reaction, and the solid eye contact and mutual tears welling that ensued after I put my camera down from my face, has changed me forever. I can now view "the pigs" in a completely different light to my usual trolling self... I'm usually the first to slag authority and especially enforcement of same.

              They bleed the same. I saw it last night. Thanks for listening, I had to get that out. Some of them are "jobsworths", some bullies, but not all. Remember that next time you hurl abuse at a police line. They could be our comrades come the Revolution. I saw that possibility tonight.

              I'm going to bed, 24 hours awake now.

        • You mean they texted each other as to where to meet up? Diabolical! Criminal genius!

          GP is right, most of the rioters were probably "morons", in that they don't think too hard about this stuff.

      • Reminds me of McArthur Wheeler: (from [] )

        At 5 feet 6 inches and about 270 pounds, McArthur Wheeler is an easily recognizable man — even when wearing lemon juice on his face.

        That certainly came as a surprise to Wheeler, 45, of Versailles Street, McKeesport. He was incredulous in April when Pittsburgh robbery detectives told him that he had been identified in surveillance photographs as one of the two men who robbed two banks in Brighton Heights and Swissvale on Jan. 6.

        "But I wore the lemon juice. I wore the lemon juice,'' a puzzled Wheeler told the even more puzzled detectives.

        The detectives' confusion turned to incredulity as Wheeler explained about his would-be lemon aid.
        "Someone told him that if you put lemon juice on your face it makes you invisible to the surveillance camera,'' recounted a still chuckling Cmdr. Ronald Freeman of the investigations branch.

    • by umghhh ( 965931 )
      great - modern version of a tinfoil hat - I was going to say that you should patent it but I suppose it is already patented as the rest of technology is patented [] also.
  • 1. ski mask
    2. ???
    3. profit!!

    brought to you by John Dillinger

    • 1. ski mask
      2. ???
      3. profit!!

      Sound advice. However, I suspect the majority of rioters on the streets at the moment aren't the type of people who read Slashdot nor think about the consequences of showing their face in public to all those people with smartphones.

      For example: [] . No facial recognition technology with this site, just the "many eyeballs" technique.

  • All this talk and nobody posted a site up yet with all the perps identified and tagged? Sounds like design by committee, where there's only one real developer who understands and can do the work and a bunch of yakkers just chatting it up because they can't do it but want to be important or included.

    C'mon, website up in T-minus how many hours?

    PS: On a side note. Hearing the word Riot brings back the memories of the LA Riots and the one story that I remember is the guy with a hunting rifle living across the

    • by u38cg ( 607297 ) <> on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:17AM (#37041410) Homepage
      So, LA: lots of rioting, stores got looted. London: lots of rioting, stores got looted. Remind me again what gun control has to do with this?
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Xest ( 935314 )

      If you can't see the obvious problem in your post, then you're retarded.

      America has some of the most lax gun laws in the world.

      America still managed to suffer far worse riots than the UK has.

      As an aside, how many people did the rioters themselves shoot in those riots with legitimately owned guns? No? don't want to answer that? According to Wikipedia 53 people died. Thus far only one person has died in the UK and he was shot by a rival gang with an illegal firearm.

      Oh, but because one guy defended one shop, i

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by couchslug ( 175151 )

        "America still managed to suffer far worse riots than the UK has."

        ONLY in DISARMED areas. There are two Americas, reasonable as the US is vastly larger than the UK. There is a generally peaceful part, and there is the violent part you read about in the news. The culture and demographics of these areas differ. Many of the lowest-crime areas of the US are heavily armed.

        The reason the LA riots weren't replicated in the Southern US is we would have cut the rioters to ribbons. The "goblins" (to use a fine Jeff C

    • You don't need guns to defend yourself, you American twatburger, you just need community spirit, as happened in many areas of London last night. If you come across a couple of hundred Sikhs ready to fight back, you'd have to be fucking stupid to try any looting in their area.
  • by tftp ( 111690 )

    After the dust settles I'm sure only the people caught in the process of rioting will be prosecuted. Even if a camera records a man running into the store, grabbing something and running out, and even if that man is uniquely identified, he can always claim that someone forced him to do that, threatening him with a knife. In a quiet situation this lie can be untangled, evidence found, witnesses questioned, etc. etc. However in *this* mess it is impossible to prove or disprove the story, even though it is ob

    • by Xest ( 935314 )

      A lot of them will be caught in the coming weeks and months. Most don't realise many modern devices like iPhones, XBox's etc. have unique identifiers such that if they ever use them online they'll almost certainly be flagged up and the police will be round to their house in no time where they can do them for stolen goods.

      The jail cell shortage is no big deal, a criminal record and community service to clean up the areas they fucked up and then some will be a good enough response to many of the lesser offend

    • by BondGamer ( 724662 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @04:58AM (#37041552) Journal
      "Seriously officer, this guy had a knife and he forced me to steal this big screen TV that is in my living room. I was going to return it after the riots were over!"
    • And for every 4 people that claim it wasn't them or they didn't intend to break that store window there will be 1 person who admits freely to doing it. That's better than nothing
  • If Only... (Score:4, Informative)

    by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @02:57AM (#37041092) Homepage

    If only this technology were JUST going to be used on a bunch of minging neds and chavs, I'd have no problem with it.

    But it'll be used for everyone all too soon.

    Ah well, in the meantime, I'll be only too happy to watch a bunch of warbling brats get their arses handed to them by the cops.

  • Smartwater (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I was just in the UK and in some of the suburbs in London there were signs up about SmartWater [] being used in the area. I think it was just being used to tag property but some of the other applications there seem interesting.

    In a riot-like situation where there are too many people to feasibly make significant arrests it seems like it would be useful to have a way of "tagging" them and then pull them more of them in in the subsequent days.

    A week ago I was also in Nottingham and walked past a p

    • by u38cg ( 607297 )
      But what would you charge them with? "Your honour, we have proved that this person was, on Tuesday 9th August, the target of a police waterpistol"? To convict someone, you need a specific act and a charge. Smartwater won't give you that.
      • If a log of where and when the Smartwater is deployed is maintained and possibly tallied with police video (or testimony) it should not be too hard to tie people to individual acts. I believe that is the actual point of Smartwater in that usage, you can tie a person (or persons) to an individual deployment of the SmartWater (as each deployment can be uniquely identifiable) and therefore tag people as associated with an to an act while it is ongoing.
      • by kraut ( 2788 )

        They were refusing to disperse after being lawfully ordered to do so by a police officer.

        I'm fairly sure that qualifies as an offence.

  • What? You guys haven't gotten your masks from Fed Ex yet?
  • I fear that a purely technical solution will make this situation a lot worse. People filming the riots will be beaten up, or worse.

    Watching this amazing video [], I can't but wonder: what the hell is going on in the UK? Where did so much hate and anger come from?

    • You have a lot of people, young people, who notice that they do not have a job, have no chance to ever have one that's worth having, have no perspective and no outlook in life and essentially have no future. And their present isn't too stunning either.

      The combination thereof leads to a lot of frustration, anger and helpless rage. There is a lot of energy, a lot of very negative energy, built up and waiting for an outlet. This outlet has come now.

      This is a phenomenon that's not unknown. People are willing to

    • by u38cg ( 607297 )
      Some legitimate grievances, some cultural issues, and large numbers of unemployed young males, always a recipe for disaster.
  • by mikejuk ( 1801200 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @03:54AM (#37041316)
    I think that the idea that these fashions will catch on to stop day to day facial recognition quite reasonable. See: CV Dazzle []
  • by sp3d2orbit ( 81173 ) on Wednesday August 10, 2011 @09:59AM (#37043582)

    I am never amazed at the sense of helplessness I get from Europeans. They expect the government to do everything for and when it doesn't, for some reason petty theft is "justified". Pathetic.

    Gandhi said "First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win." These current groups of thieves and thugs aren't noble citizens rising up against their oppressors. They are violent, thieving thugs with no concept of passive resistance -- no concept of the better good.

    Poor you say? Look at these people []

    They are very well dressed. They are very well fed. These are not helpless Somalis trying to get their food aid. These people would be upper middle class in 75% of the countries on Earth but are so consumed by jealousy and helplessness that they have turned to selfish destruction.

    Many of you, who are paralyzed by the thought of another citizen owning a gun, try to draw comparisons to the LA riots in 1992. Do you not remember Korea Town? Lack of gun control works. The LA riots were not brought under control by the police. It was private individuals, with their private guns, that laid down the law and stopped the anarchy.

    The British people are helpless and dependent. From yesterday's Guardian:

      "Scotland Yard’s 6,000 street officers were hopelessly outmanoeuvred" by " boys and girls, most no older than 15, and some apparently as young as eight". One resident: “Where are the police? Why are they not here? People are frightened.”

    Americans in the 1992 riots were in no such mood:

    "We are glad the National Guard is here. They're good backup."

    Many years ago a historian (please enlighten me to the name if you can remember) did a study on the rise and fall of civilizations. He identified a phase immediately before collapse: Dependence

Were there fewer fools, knaves would starve. - Anonymous