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11th February 

Smile - you're on camera!

I made a point of not going to Stratford today. It was the first day of the Metropolitan Police using Live Facial Recognition (LFR) in London. They chose Stratford as their location and I didn't want to be on camera. It's not that I have anything to hide you understand. It's just that I disapprove of all Londoners (or should that be east Londoners?) being taken for criminals. It feels like a slippery slope from this to Big Brother knowing what each of us is doing anywhere, any moment of the day.

The argument goes that LFR can help police identify wanted criminals by matching live pictures with digital images. After a camera is installed at specific locations, it starts capturing images of all the people passing in front of it. The live images are then streamed to a live facial recognition system, which compares them to images offenders sought by the police. If a match is found, the system generates an alert for the police officer present on the scene.

The Met have announced that LFR technology has now been fully trialled and is ready to be permanently integrated into everyday policing. Results from the trials at events like football matches and concerts suggest that 70% of the wanted offenders would be recognised. However, the privacy campaigning group, Big Brother Watch claim that live facial recognition technology is highly inaccurate and is a breach of human rights. 

But, the question remains, why Stratford? The police justified it by saying, "Stratford transport hub located next to the Westfield Shopping Centre is a footprint where gang violence has been prevalent.....A number of persons, both within Newham and neighbouring boroughs have been identified as being wanted for violent crime". They might as well say, "if you're from east London you're more likely to be a criminal". Having recently re-introduced 'stop and search', this just seems like another way to target black and ethnic minority people. If I was smart enough to avoid Stratford today, I'm sure real criminals would have been even smarter to keep a mile away from police cameras.

In the old days, police used to walk the streets with the idea being to prevent crime from happening in the first place. It helped to make us feel safer. If a criminal was identified, police could go to their home to arrest them. They didn't use a large vacuum cleaner to suck us all up just so they could grab the criminals. That's what this feels like - a sledgehammer to crack a nut. When the police trialled LFR in Stratford in 2018, no arrests were made. I wonder how many criminals they caught in Stratford today, while making the rest of us feel like criminals?


20th January 2020

Daffodils in January!

I was astonished, walking through the Olympic Park last week, to see beds of daffodils in full bloom. I don't know if they planted a special variety of early-blooming daffodils in the park but it was a sign to me that all is not normal with our climate. Indeed, over the past year, the discussion has moved on from talking about 'climate change' to talking about a 'climate emergency'. Pity those poor souls, like Donald Trump and Scott McKenzie (and even more so, those under their leadership), who are still struggling to recognise climate change. Wildfires in the USA and Australia, not to mention melting ice in Antarctica, floods around the planet, protesting schoolchildren and the hitherto measured voice of David Attenborough talking about a 'crisis', have all helped to focus minds.

Go back to 2012 and we were talking about the London Olympics being 'the greenest Games ever'. Eight years on and two Olympics later, unfortunately, we are probably still talking about London being the greenest Games ever! Rio 2016 was far from being a successful Olympics and sustainability did not appear to be so high up the agenda. Certainly, the Olympic venues in Rio have not found their way into everyday post-Olympic usage in the way that venues in London have. The signs are not great for Tokyo 2020 either. I saw the development of the new stadium in progress when I visited Tokyo in 2018 and was surprised to find yet another huge construction project. Whatever happened to the 1964 stadium? Couldn't that have been re-used? Nor does Tokyo appear to have an Olympic Park where all the key venues are brought together in one location. The stadium, other venues and Athletes Village are scattered around the city, requiring journeys to be made by athletes as well as specators. I'm sure Tokyo's public transport network will cope, but could it have been better planned to minimise journeys?

Since the 2012 Olympics, we have been running fieldwork programmes around the Olympic Park, investigating London's claims to be the greenest Games. Much of the focus has been on East Village, the former Athletes Village. The village has many sustainable credentials - high-spec design to minimise energy use, local renewable energy supply, water recycling, great public transport connections, more cycling and fewer cars, 50% affordable accommodation. Unfortunately, in 2020, we are still talking about East Village being a model for sustainble urban living. Where are the new developments in London to emulate it? Good as it is, East Village is far from perfect. What lessons have been learned to apply to future developments? If we are to take the climate emergency seriously, we haven't got long to think about these questions. Twelve years only gives us three more Olympics!