Facial recognition / Policing / Privacy and mass surveillance

Human Rights coalition calls for immediate ban on facial recognition

Posted on 23 Aug 2021

  • Demand for MPs to act one year on from Liberty’s landmark case
  • Open letter criticises Home Office for “bypassing” Parliament
  • Widespread concern over potential rollout of oppressive surveillance tool

Liberty, Privacy International and 30 organisations have called for Parliament to ban the use of facial recognition technology, one year after judges found the technology breaches our rights in Liberty’s ground-breaking legal case.

In an open letter coordinated by Privacy International and Liberty published today, 21 August, the organisations say police bodies and the Home Office have “bypassed” Parliament in pushing ahead with plans to quietly roll out the surveillance tool.

While the letter calls for Parliament to scrutinise the risks that facial recognition presents, it makes clear that the only way to mitigate these risks is through an outright ban on its use by the police and private companies.

In August 2020, the Court of Appeal agreed with Liberty’s arguments on behalf of Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, finding that South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition had breached human rights and failed to account for its discriminatory impact.

Despite judges finding clearly that the technology violates our rights and threatens our liberties, Parliament has not debated the issue since, and police forces including South Wales and London’s Metropolitan Police have said they plan to use it.

In June, the College of Policing published draft guidance on using facial recognition, and last week the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) published draft guidance on the mass surveillance tool that was supposed to account for the findings in last year’s judgment. The SCC guidance was widely criticised as “bare-bones” and Liberty said this shows that it is not possible to regulate for a technology that is inherently oppressive.

Liberty is campaigning for a ban on the use of facial recognition technology in public, and has a live petition which has been signed by over 50,000 people.

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: “Whatever our background or beliefs, we all want to feel safe and be able to go about our lives freely. Facial recognition undermines these ideals.

“It is over a year since our case led the Court to agree that this technology violates our rights and threatens our liberties. The government can’t dodge this issue and allow for this dystopian surveillance tool to quietly but fundamentally change the nature of policing and our public spaces.

“Facial recognition does not make people safer, it will entrench patterns of discrimination and sow division. It is impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design. The safest, and only, thing to do with facial recognition is to ban it.”


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