Facial recognition

Facial recognition: One year on since world-first legal challenge

Posted by Emmanuelle Andrew on 11 Aug 2021

One year ago today, Liberty client Ed Bridges won the world’s first legal challenge to police use of facial recognition technology.

The Court of Appeal said that South Wales Police’s use of the tech in public breaks human rights, data protection and equality laws. It was unlawful.

A year on, as police forces and private companies continue to use dangerous and discriminatory facial recognition, we’re now fighting to get it banned for good.

Still in use

After our legal victory, the National Policing Lead for Facial Recognition immediately said he was “determined that the future, certainly for South Wales and I know a number of other forces, includes facial recognition”.

The Metropolitan Police then confirmed it would continue to use the tech. Despite it being well known facial recognition can’t tell black people apart, leading to wrongful stops, searches and – in some cases in the US – arrests, the Met said: “we do not believe there are inherent biases that are extreme”.

But how could they know when WebRoots Democracy discovered the Met didn’t carry out an equality impact assessment ahead of the trials that formed the basis of its decision to approve the tech for wider use?

It was also revealed last week that more forces are experimenting with facial recognition on pictures and old footage (rather than live images like South Wales and the Met), while tech companies have plans to put the software on officers’ body cameras, effectively putting everyone in a police line-up.

And it’s not just the police making use of the tech. Private companies at busy transport hubs and shopping centres are scanning millions of people’s faces without consent, while Southern Co-op is using the surveillance tech on staff and customers.

It must be banned.

Ban facial recognition

New laws regulating the use of facial recognition can’t possibly solve the major human rights concerns.

And making the tech more accurate won’t defeat discrimination. History tells us surveillance tech will always be disproportionately used on communities of colour, deployed by police forces with a culture of racism.

The only option is to ban police and private company use of facial recognition in areas open to the public.

More than 50,000 people have already signed our petition. Add your name and share it with your friends and family today.

Together we can build a fairer, freer society.

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