Last Saturday, over 20 million viewers from across the UK watched the coronation of King Charles III, making it the country’s most-watched TV event of the year. Another two million or so took to the streets of London, closely monitored by AI.
Ahead of the coronation, the Metropolitan Police confirmed it would be deploying live facial recognition technology – which scans faces and compares them to a list of people wanted for alleged crimes – across central London to identify potentially dangerous individuals blending into the crowd.
During the event, the software scanned images from central London’s nearly 1 million CCTV cameras and analyzed them using an AI algorithm to identify faces that might match those on the Met’s watchlist. The sheer scale of the deployment made it the largest ever use of live facial recognition technology in public spaces in UK history.
Live facial recognition technology has been a subject of controversy in the UK in recent years over concerns about privacy, civil liberties and the potential for the technology to be misused.
One of the main problems is the lack of clear legal regulations for its use. “Live facial recognition is not mentioned in any UK law, has never been discussed in Parliament and is one of the most privacy-intrusive technologies ever used in the UK police force,” said the spokesperson. Madeleine Stone, legal and policy officer at British civil liberties campaign group Big Brother watch.
Critics argue that the use of live facial recognition could lead to false positives, falsely identifying innocent people as suspects. There are also concerns that the technology could disproportionately affect certain groups, such as people of color or people with disabilities, due to the potential for prejudice in the algorithms used to analyze the images.
As a result of these concerns, a moratorium on the use of live facial recognition technology has been advocated until clear legal guidance and ethical standards can be established. While some European countries have restricted its use by private companies, they are hesitant to extend these restrictions to government and law enforcement.
Last month, British police resumed the use of live facial recognition technology research demonstrating a ‘substantial improvement’ in its accuracy. a report of the National Physical Laboratory found the chance of a false match to be 1 in 6000. That is still far too imprecise, campaigners say.
While tensions around live facial recognition were on full display at the coronation, another emerging technology was setting records: 5G.
5G is the latest wireless technology that offers faster and more reliable connectivity than its predecessor 4G and has the potential to revolutionize the way we use the internet, especially for data-intensive applications such as self-driving cars, gaming and live media streaming .
Although there is a lot of concern (and misinformation) surrounding 5G – from beliefs that it causes radiation to more outlandish ones claims that it could spread the coronavirus – unlike live facial recognition, most experts agree it does little harm.
‘Largest temporary private 5G network in the world’
Of the more than 20 million viewers who tuned into the royal action on Saturday, the majority watched coverage on the BBC, which broadcast the event live.
In recent years, news crews have relied on mobile networks to capture footage from hard-to-reach locations that are inaccessible by satellite trucks or cables. This approach can cause problems during major events, as the networks become overloaded with social media users uploading content and journalists competing to send their images back to news outlets.
To ensure a reliable connection for live broadcasts, BBC R&D, the British news company’s technical research arm, has deployed the world’s largest temporary private 5G network at The Mall — the 1km red road leading from Admiralty Arch to Buckingham Palace, where hundreds of thousands of people gathered for the King’s procession.
Streaming large amounts of professional video requires high uplink capacity, which public networks are not designed for. To handle the traffic, the BBC set up a separate, private network using UK communications regulator Ofcom’s shared access spectrum, which secured 80MHz of radio capacity centered at 3855MHz. Mobile connectivity devices such as LiveU’s LU300 with 5G modems and dedicated SIM cards moved video traffic from the public networks to the private network.
In plain English this meant that 60 devices can stream video at a high data rate from anywhere along The Mall, without disrupting the speed of public mobile networks.
“The beauty of this system is that the workflow for operators and broadcasters is much the same as they use every day, but we can be confident that their units will work no matter how busy the public network gets,” said BBC R&D in A blogging after.
Unlike live facial recognition, the future of 5G is more certain, with half of all mobile subscriptions predicted to be connected to 5G networks in just four years.