Resist Facial Recognition

We must resist biometric surveillance on our streets
MET Police street notice that facial recognition cameras are in use
"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

Facial recognition is a dangerously intrusive and discriminatory technology that destroys our privacy rights and forces people to change their behaviour. It has no place on the streets of a free, rights-respecting democracy.

But facial recognition technology is being used by police on our streets and by private companies in publicly accessible places like shopping centres and train stations. It must be banned.

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Police and private company use of facial recognition in publicly accessible places breaches everyone’s human rights and is discriminatory and authoritarian. It's time to ban it.

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

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. South Wales Police even plans to put the technology on officers’ phones, making it easier to scan us whenever they want. 

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

WHAT THIS MEANS FOR OUR RIGHTS

The cameras scan everyone in sight – adults and children – snatching our deeply personal biometric data without our consent. This is a gross violation of our privacy.

And if we know we’re being watched and having our faces scanned, we change our behaviour. We may choose not to express our views in public or risk going to a peaceful protest. We shouldn’t have to change how we live our lives to protect ourselves from unwarranted surveillance. In short, facial recognition tech makes us less free.

And disproportionate surveillance is most keenly felt by people of colour – the Met used facial recognition at Notting Hill Carnival for two years running, and twice in the London Borough of Newham, one of the UK's most ethnically diverse areas. 

Studies have shown that facial recognition technology is more likely to misidentify people of colour, young people and women, leading to them being stopped incorrectly. But we should not be seeking to perfect vast networks of surveillance. More accurate technologies 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.

A WEB OF POLICE SURVEILLANCE

Recent news stories have revealed that 70 CCTV cameras in Glasgow have already been loaded with facial recognition technology “to monitor crowds and look out for intruders or people loitering in parks, landmarks and back lanes” – operated by both Police Scotland and a department of Glasgow City Council. 

There’s also the potential for police to use facial recognition together with other surveillance technologies like body worn video devices.

And the Home Office has refused to engage with questions about how facial recognition and the biometric data it generates will be linked with the new policing super-database.

CHALLENGING FACIAL RECOGNITION IN THE COURTS

In March 2018, police deployed facial recognition technology at a protest for the first time.

Liberty is representing Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, who attended the protest, as he mounts a legal challenge against South Wales Police.

He says their indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology on our streets makes our privacy rights worthless.

We’re in court to end South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition technology in public spaces in May 2019.

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