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 police forces in England and Wales are using it in our public spaces anyway.

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 a fingerprint than a photograph.

The watch lists used are put together by the police. These pictures will often be taken from the custody images database – which is made up of people who have come into contact with the police, including thousands of innocent people. But they can take pictures from anywhere, including 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 a few years now, 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 is a gross violation of privacy.

And 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.

Facial recognition technology is also alarmingly biased – it’s least accurate when it tries to identify black people and women, meaning they are more likely to be stopped by the police and made to account for themselves. But as facial recognition systems become more accurate, the threat to our rights will only become greater.

And the cameras scan everyone in sight, 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

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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