Facial recognition

I. RESIST FACIAL RECOGNITION

Facial recognition technology is being used by police and private companies in publicly accessible places. It breaches everyone’s human rights, discriminates against people of colour and is unlawful. It’s time to ban it. Sign the petition today.

Alongside campaigner Ed Bridges, we won the world’s first legal challenge to police use of facial recognition technology in August 2020. The Court said South Wales Police’s use of the intrusive and discriminatory tech violates privacy rights and breaks data protection and equality laws.

Several police forces have used facial recognition since 2015, and they have already reaffirmed their commitment to it and are looking ways around our court win. Private companies are also using the tech in publicly accessible places like shopping centres and train stations.

It has no place in a free, rights-respecting democracy. It must be banned.

"The police are supposed to protect us and make us feel safe – but I think the technology is intimidating and intrusive."

Liberty client Ed Bridges

WHAT IS FACIAL RECOGNITION?

Facial recognition works by matching the faces of people walking past special cameras to images of people on a watch list. It does this by scanning the distinct points of our faces and creating biometric maps – more like fingerprints than photographs.

Everyone in range is scanned and has their biometric data (their unique facial measurements) snatched without their consent.

The watch lists can contain pictures of anyone, including people who are not suspected of any wrongdoing, and the images can come from anywhere – even from our social media accounts.

South Wales Police and the Metropolitan Police have been using live facial recognition in public for years with no public or parliamentary debate.

They’ve used it on tens of thousands of us, at everything from protests and football matches to music festivals.

Some private companies have also used the tech in publicly accessible places including King’s Cross in London, and the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

Facial recognition cameras mounted a on police van in Leicester Square, January 2019

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR RIGHTS

Ed Bridges was scanned twice by South Wales Police’s facial recognition tech – once when Christmas shopping, and again at a peaceful protest.

Ed and Liberty took the force to court in the world’s first case against police use of the technology. And we won.

The Court said South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition violated everyone’s right to privacy because of the lack of safeguards governing who is on the watch list.

It also said the level of discretion officers have when choosing where to use the tech contributes to a breach of privacy rights. South Wales Police has used it on busy shopping streets, at sporting events and music concerts, and even the seaside.

This will have a huge impact on other forces too. London’s Metropolitan Police has admitted to just using facial recognition in busy areas where it can scan as many people as possible. The Court condemned using the tech to look for people who aren’t wanted by the police too. The Met has previously used it to track people with mental health problems.

Judges also said that scanning everyone, whether or not they are suspected of crime, breaches our data protection rights.

And the tech is known to misidentify black people, meaning they are more likely to be stopped, questioned and searched by police. The Metropolitan Police has a history of using it in ethnically diverse areas and at events likely to be highly attended by people of colour, including Notting Hill Carnival for two years running.

But making the tech more accurate is no solution. We shouldn’t seek to perfect vast networks of surveillance. Greater accuracy would mean we could all be identified and tracked in real time.

Facial recognition technology has no place on our streets – it must be banned.

WHAT WE’RE CALLING FOR

While there have been calls to create law governing its use, this will not solve the human rights concerns or the tech’s in-built discrimination.

Thirteen US cities have recognised this and banned it.

We need to follow their lead in the UK.

I'm looking for advice on this

Did you know Liberty offers free human rights legal advice?

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

Did you find this content useful?

Help us make our content even better by letting us know whether you found this page useful or not

Need advice or information?