London police crowdsource the panopticon

London's Metropolitan Police have produced an app called Facewatch ID that is billed as a crowdsourcing tool for identifying suspects shown in stills from CCTV footage of last summer's riots. But the 2,800 riot images also include "a further 2,000 images of people wanted by the police for offences not connected to the riots." From the BBC:

Assistant commissioner Mark Rowley, head of specialist crime and operations at Scotland Yard, said: "This is a great opportunity for the public to help us fight crime and bring those who remain outstanding to justice.

"My hope is that the two-thirds of Londoners who own smartphones will download this app, and help us identify people we still need to speak to.

"We need Londoners to browse through the app every week or so as new images will appear regularly. This is a fantastic way for Londoners to help us to fight crime."

Crowd-sourcing used to trace London riot suspects (via Making Light)


  1. “Finally, my time has come!  My country calls,” run the  thoughts of every Neighborhood Watch devotee.

    On the other hand, it will force them to be inside staring at a little screen all day (Gotta catch up, lots of footage to wade through!) instead of bothering people from their front porch, so it’s kind of a win.

    1. I never heard the term ‘curtain twitcher’ until I started reading the Mail.

  2. It’s be *terrible* if people started flooding them with false reports, wouldn’t it?

    1. I’m pretty sure Mark Rowley’s face looks the same as every single person at the riots. I hope lots of other people with this app notice that too.

  3. I can see this turning into a fiasco where the only people who actually get prosecuted are people labelling suspects “mickey mouse” and “George Osborne” in the app for a joke.

  4. So, using CCTV and spying on your Internet use isn’t enough, the London cops need citizens to spy on each other to help them solve crimes? Gotta wonder where they get their training, Sesame Street?

    1. I know you’re making a joke here, but yes: that is a legitimate form of crowdsourcing even though it may not be super-effective.

  5. Oooh, just like in 1984, is there a Junior Spies app too?

    His eagerness and assumption that EVERYONE in London will help is just as nauseating as the concept itself.

    Have a most wanted list by all means, Crimewatch? Fair play. But this is raising the stakes quite a bit, and is tantamount to turning citizens into CCTV cameras. Is the persistent video recording /streaming mode an in-app purchase?

  6. It would be great for spotting police informers or agents provocateurs at demonstrations, or cops who like the rough stuff.

  7. When I read about the Facewatch service a little while ago, it was presented as being mostly for small businesses. It’s supposed to reduce shoplifting/pickpocketing/other petty crimes that are small but committed serially. I thought that was a good idea, but I’m not sure how much success they’re going to have with this report-the-rioters campaign. A lot of people using the app may have been rioters themselves!

    My original article about Facewatch: 

  8. I live in Vancouver, and after the riots, we had this sort of thing.  The anger and shame over the whole thing was so palatable, that the police had little difficulty coercing citizens to scroll through photos for their friends.  There are still posters in public places with photos of rioters.  It was sort of poetic that the riot, the sin of the hive-mind, was being punished by the hive-mind.  Rioters were separated from their identities in the crowd and were reintegrated with them by the crowd.
    The justice system has been pretty slow on going to trial on these rioters, making sure that they have enough evidence to secure convictions, so I applaud their adherence to due process.  I think that that is the real question: what does it look like when this technique is part of a due process machine, and what does it look like when it’s not?   Also, what does it mean that the police are the ones running through all the photos and presenting them for review?  How are they shaping the picture of what happened?

    1. It’s 4,800 wanted posters all on the same day.  With a big header that says WANTED FOR BURNING YOUR NEIGHBOURS’ HOMES and then a little footnote for 2,000 of them that says *actually wanted for something else*

  9. So what’s gonna happen when people start putting names to faces of officers who might have also been breaking the law during the time?

  10. If I were the kind of person who would act as an informant, I would be concerned about the security of the system since a compromise would expose my identity. It would be truly unfortunate if Anonymous targeted this system and post the identities on a site named something like WikiSnitchLeaks. Let me be clear, Anonymous should definitely NOT target this system!

  11. Great opportunity to increase the efficacy and cost effectiveness of the burgeoning police state. Although if I am going to turn in the Jewish family living in the attic next door I want to be well compensated for it, not do it as a public service. /satire

  12. It’s a horrific idea, so it’s a good thing it doesn’t work. There’s no incentive for the public, no matter how much they express their revulsion for rioting.

    In Vancouver, despite poring over thousands of images from the Stanley Cup riots and launching a crowdsourcing website, law enforcements has failed to arrest more than a handful of people.

  13. That one’s Queen Elizabeth.

    Queen Elizabeth.

    Prince Charles.

    Queen Elizabeth.

    Prince Harry.

    DI?!? How’d she get in there?…

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