This week our Social Impact Briefing covers the A-level results fiasco, lawfulness of facial recognition and Greece abandoning refugees.
| GOVERNMENT FORCED INTO MAJOR U-TURN
Thousands have expressed anger at the handling of A-level results, leading to protests, petitions and mounting pressure to change the way the results have been decided. Yesterday (Sunday 16 August) thousands of protestors marched across London demanding the immediate resignation of education secretary Gavin Williamson, who as recently as the weekend, announced there would be no change to the results.
Around 40% of predicted results were downgraded after the exams regulator Ofqual used an algorithm based on schools’ previous results, failing to take into account teacher-assessed grades. Almost inevitably, disadvantaged schools and students would have been hit the hardest, with many losing out on offers to university. Top private schools have also joined calls to ditch the algorithm used to assess grades, as many of their student’s grades were downgraded by the system as well.
Today, after discussions with ministers, teachers and students and after days of mounting pressure, the Government has U-turned on its decision and will now base A-level results on the “centre assessment grades” from teachers. The government also announced that this week’s GCSE results will also use teacher assessments.
After days of anger and confusion, many students will be celebrating today’s news. However, questions remain over university places for those who did not get in under the Ofqual algorithm. Will the government lift its controversial cap on student numbers? And why was this mess allowed to happen in the first place?
| FACIAL RECOGNITION DEEMED UNLAWFUL
Liberty, the UK’s largest organisation defending civil liberties, has won the world’s first legal challenge to facial recognition technology. The judgement found South Wales Police to have infringed on the rights of Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, as the technology breached privacy rights, data protection laws and equality laws.
Police use the technology to scan the faces of everyone passing by, snatching their biometric data, to compare them to secretive “watch lists”. South Wales police have been trialling the technology since 2017, and have reportedly captured over 500,000 faces, the vast majority of whom have committed no crime whatsoever.
Following the Court of Appeals judgement, South Wales Police said: “The test of our ground-breaking use of this technology by the courts has been a welcome and important step in its development. I am confident this is a judgment that we can work with.”
However, Liberty argues that it is the technology itself that is the problem. Previous research on the efficacy of the technology from MIT showed that the technology regularly misidentifies people of colour, up to 35% of the time for “darker-skinned females”. The UK government has failed to assess how the systems deal with ethnicity in at least three reports over the last five years.
“The Court has agreed that this dystopian surveillance tool violates our rights and threatens our liberties. Facial recognition discriminates against people of colour, and it is absolutely right that the Court found that South Wales Police had failed in their duty to investigate and avoid discrimination. It is time for the Government to recognise the serious dangers of this intrusive technology. Facial recognition is a threat to our freedom – it needs to be banned.” Liberty lawyer, Megan Goulding.
Despite this most recent court judgement, other police forces in the UK continue to use the technology, including the Met, who earlier this year announced the technology will be used in shopping centres and busy areas of London.
While still in its infancy stage, now is the time to take action against this invasive and discriminatory technology, that will further erode the civil liberties that we value so highly. Sign Liberty’s petition to ban the use of facial recognition technology here.
| GREECE IS ABANDONING REFUGEES AT SEA
Greece has secretly been expelling refugees from the country, sailing them out to the edge of Greek territorial waters before abandoning them in life rafts. The report released by the New York Times, suggests over 1,000 asylum-seekers have been dropped at sea in over 30 separate expulsions.
Much of the Greek population has grown increasingly angry with the modest help that has been received from other EU countries to assist with the tens of thousands of asylum-seekers on overburdened Greek islands. Last year’s election of the more hardline conservative government marked a worrying shift in approach from the country.
Greece also believes that Turkey is exacerbating the issue for its own geopolitical gain, weaponizing migrants to gain further European assistance for the Syrian War. As we wrote in March, Turkey (which holds 3.6 million Syrian refugees) began to open their northern borders for refugees to enter Greece without any protections or established process, which itself led to thousands of extrajudicial expulsions.
“These pushbacks are totally illegal in all their aspects, in international law and in European law. It is a human rights and humanitarian disaster”Professor François Crépeau, former United Nations special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants.
| SPOTLIGHT ON… Kenya’s Elephant Baby Boom
What better news could we bring you than Amboseli National Park in Kenya, near Mt. Kilimanjaro experiencing an elephant baby boom? The park announced the birth of more than 170 calves this year, with more on the way. In comparison, in 2018 the park reported just 113 new calves. Two sets of twins were also born this year, a particularly rare occurrence.
Heavier rains in 2019 and anti-poaching efforts are cited as contributing to the baby boom. More rain means more vegetation for grazing, which reduces instances of dehydration and starvation leading to fewer deaths. Increased anti-poaching efforts also mean Kenya’s elephants are also relatively safe, leading to fewer elephants being killed when compared to other parts of Africa.
“In addition to reduced poaching in Kenya, during this Covid period, the absence of tourists in many of our national parks has led to the thriving of the animal populations. We also had unusually good rains the last two years, so there is plenty of food”Dr Winnie Kiiru, Elephant Protection Initiative Foundation.