Police are using an expanding array of surveillance tools to monitor us as we go about our lives – but are providing the public with next to no information about them. Forces must open up about these technologies so we can protect our rights and freedoms
Policeman looks out over crowd of protesters
“Under observation, we act less free, which means we effectively are less free.”
Edward Snowden

New police surveillance technologies are being rolled out for use on our streets and they are putting our rights at risk.

This use of intrusive technology makes a mockery of our right to privacy – and feeling monitored can cause us to change what we do, where we go and who we go with. 

And some of these surveillance tools discriminate against people and cause the police to unjustifiably target certain groups and communities.  

The details of what surveillance technology the police are using, where they are using it and who they are using it on is often hidden from public view.

Our neighbourhoods are being watched – but without the full picture, people don’t know what is happening in their own areas, how it affects their fundamental rights, and how they can challenge it.

Find out more and help us raise awareness

Police have provided the public with next to no information on the ever-expanding array of surveillance tools they are using to monitor us.

Liberty and Privacy International have made a series of explainers to help raise public awareness of these technologies.

Facial recognition

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 uniquely identifiable biometric map – more like a fingerprint than a picture.

The police make up the watch lists however they choose, and have used facial recognition cameras to target people with mental health issues. And the technology is known to more likely misidentify women and BAME people.

Find out more – download Facial Recognition Explainer

Facial recognition camera in use by police in Leicester Square London
A facial recognition camera in operation at Leicester Square in January 2019.

IMSI catchers

IMSI catchers can be used to locate and track mobile phones in a certain area by pretending to be a signal tower and tricking phones into connecting with them and revealing people’s personal data.

They can be used to intercept and monitor your calls and messages, and change their content – and you wouldn’t even know it was happening.

Find out more – download IMSI Catchers Explainer

Mobile phone extraction

Police need a warrant to search your home – but not your phone.

The police are using mobile phone extraction technology, which can download all the data from your phone – messages, photos, videos contacts, internet history and more. This can includes anything that has been encrypted or deleted.

Find out more – download Mobile Phone Extraction Explainer

Predictive Policing

Predictive policing computer programs attempt to predict future criminal activity or behaviour. 

But these computer algorithms can worsen pre-existing inequalities and lead to the continued over-policing of marginalised communities. 

The precise way they make their predictions is very difficult to understand, which makes it near-impossible for us to challenge their decisions.

Find out more – download Predictive Policing Explainer


The police can access everything on your phone without you even knowing about it.

They can switch on the microphone and listen to your private conversations, switch on the camera and spy on you in real time and log every keystroke to learn all of your passwords.

Find out more – download Hacking Explainer

Social media intelligence

Police are snooping on our social media content and using it to profile us.

Police officers might even pose as a new friend to access your social media profile. Undercover digital surveillance should require a warrant – but many police are doing it without one.

Find out more – download Social Media Intelligence Explainer

Body Worn Video Cameras

Police body worn video cameras can record in private spaces and could be used alongside technologies like facial recognition to identify and track people in real time.

Find out more – download Body Worn Video Cameras Explainer

Holding the police to account

Each police force across England and Wales has a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). PCCs are elected by the public in each local area.

PCCs play a very important role in local policing. Their job is to be the voice of their local community and to hold the police to account. This means that they should listen to and represent your views about how the police work in your area – and this includes topics like police surveillance and new policing technologies.

Find out who your PCC is.

Find out more – download the PCCs explainer.