German police test facial recognition cameras at Berlin station

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BERLIN (Reuters) - German police deployed the first facial recognition cameras at a main railway station in Berlin on Tuesday, testing new technology that could help track and arrest crime and terrorism suspects.

“We want to test how good the technology really is,” police spokesman Jens Schobranski said of the six-month pilot project, part of a promise by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives to raise funds for police and security.

Opinion polls in the run-up to a general election next month show many voters are worried about security, partly after attacks by asylum seekers stoked criticisms of Merkel’s decision to allow in more than one million migrants.

The images of a few dozen German volunteers have been entered into the new monitoring system to gauge how well the software can recognize them and distinguish them from passersby at the Südkreuz station, a main transport hub in the capital.

Privacy is a sensitive subject for many Germans who still fret at the mass snooping practices of the Nazi regime and the Stasi secret police in Communist East Germany. Schobranski said footage of the passengers visiting the station will be deleted.

Ulrich Schellenberg, president of the German Bar Association, doubted that the new technology will help. The deadliest Islamist attack in Germany last year was carried out by a migrant who had been monitored by security agents, he said.

“Improving security is not about uncovering something new but rather to go after what we know more forcefully,” he said.

Failed asylum seeker Anis Amir killed 12 people in Berlin last year by driving a truck into a Christmas market. Security agents who suspected he was planning an attack had stopped monitoring him after they concluded he was no threat.

Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Joseph Nasr, editing by Alister Doyle