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 technology that has no place on the streets of a free, rights-respecting democracy.

But police forces in England and Wales have started using it in our public spaces anyway. 

Facial recognition works by matching live images of people walking past special cameras against images on a watch list. The cameras scan the distinct points of our faces to create a unique biometric map – more like a fingerprint than a picture.

These watch lists are put together by the police. These photographs   will often be taken from the custody images database – which contains pictures of people who have come into contact with the police, including thousands of innocent people. But they might even take the images from elsewhere, like social media.

There’s no law giving the police the power to use facial recognition and no Home Office policy covering its use – leaving individual police forces to make it up as they go along.

Despite this, South Wales and the Metropolitan Police have been quietly ‘trialling’ facial recognition for months, 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 and shopping centres. 

What this means for our rights

Having our deeply personal biometric data scanned and stored as we go about our lives makes our privacy rights meaningless. If we know we’re being watched and having our faces scanned by police, we change our behaviour.

We may choose not to express our views in public or risk going to a peaceful protest. In short, we’ll be less free. Using  facial recognition in public spaces is a hugely disproportionate crime-fighting technique that belongs in a police state.

It has no place on our streets – and if we take a stand now, it never will.

A web of police surveillance

Facial recognition is alarmingly biased – it’s least accurate when it tries to identify black people and women. But as facial recognition systems become more accurate, the threat to our rights will only become greater.

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 and will force us all to change our behaviour.

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