In a call published by Big Brother Watch, privacy rights groups have raised serious concerns about the discriminatory impact of facial recognition surveillance, citing its “incompatibility with human rights”.
MPs supporting the move include former UK Government Minister David Davis, Shadow Home Secretary Dianne Abbott, Green MP Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson. They join 25 privacy rights, race equality and expert technology groups, such as Amnesty International and the Ada Lovelace Institute.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said the “secret growth” of mass surveillance systems across the UK is undemocratic and called for an urgent halt to any deployments.
“No other European country has a face surveillance epidemic like the UK, aligning us with the likes of China rather than our democratic counterparts,” he said. “The British public do not want to be walking ID cards subjected to a constant police line up.
“Tens of millions of people will now have been scanned by facial recognition cameras in this country, yet very few of us even know about it. The secret growth of this dangerous mass surveillance tool is undemocratic and unacceptable – there must be an urgent stop to this privacy disaster before it’s too late.”
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The call follows a heavy backlash against surveillance systems being used in privately-owned public spaces across the UK. Facial recognition systems deployed at the King’s Cross in Estate in London grabbed headlines when it emerged that two cameras had been used between May 2016 and March 2018 – potentially filming thousands of pedestrians.
Earlier this month, developers abandoned plans for a wider roll-out of the technology across the 67-acre site. Big Brother Watch estimates that “tens of millions” of people have been unknowingly scanned and compared to “secret watch lists” by facial recognition systems throughout the UK.
The Metropolitan Police service has been criticised in recent years over its use of potentially invasive technologies. The police force has used facial recognition surveillance 10 times across London since 2016, including twice at the Notting Hill Carnival.
An independent review into the use of the tech, commissioned by the police service, found that in four years of trials, 81% of ‘matches’ had wrongly identified innocent people as ‘wanted’.
Similarly, South Wales Police has used live facial recognition surveillance since 2017. The tech was deployed during an anti-arms fair demonstration and the Champions League final in Cardiff. More than 2,500 spectators were wrongly identified as wanted individuals at the football match.
Campaigners are concerned that a recent unsuccessful legal challenge against the use of the technology by South Wales Police could lead to further use by both police and private companies – opening the UK up to a wave of fresh deployments.
David Davis said parliament must be given the opportunity to debate the subject properly and establish clear-cut rules from which police can work from.
“Police use of facial recognition is potentially a serious invasion of individual privacy and civil liberties,” he said. “We need a proper legal framework fit for these emerging technologies to balance policing effectiveness and privacy.
“There must be an immediate halt to the use of these systems to give parliament the chance to debate it properly and establish proper rules for the police to follow.”