October 13, 2023

UK Politicians And Race Equality Groups Urge “Immediate Stop” To Live Facial Recognition Surveillance

A coalition of 65 UK politicians and 31 leading race equality and human rights organizations have called for an “immediate stop” to live facial recognition (LFR) surveillance.

The campaign, led by privacy advocate Big Brother Watch, calls for the police and private companies to stop using the technology in public spaces.  

Signatories include former Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti and Liberal Democrat party leader Sir Ed Davey.

Amnesty International, Institute of Race Relations, Liberty, Race Equality Foundation, and Human Rights Watch also joined the campaign. 

Accessing Passport Database

The call comes after Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philip announced plans to integrate data from the police national database (PND), the UK’s passport office, and other national databases.

He said this would be implemented to enable police to find a match with the click of one button.

He added Britain’s passport database of 45 million people will help catch shoplifters and burglars and tackle other minor crimes.

Video of suspected crime from CCTV, doorbell, and dashcam technology would be compared against facial images from various government databases to find a match under the plans.

The police have deployed live facial recognition at large-scale public events such as King Charles’ coronation, sports events, and concerts.

For example, in May, human rights groups raised concerns about using LFR technology on crowds attending Beyoncé’s Renaissance concert in Cardiff, Wales.

Black men and boys most harmed 

Big Brother Watch has warned of “serious concerns” about the “incompatibility with human rights” and “discriminatory impacts” of facial recognition surveillance.

In the UK, live facial recognition surveillance has recently increased in the retail sector and some police forces.

Research by Big Brother Watch has found that over 89% of UK police facial recognition alerts to date have wrongly identified members of the public as people of interest.

The Metropolitan Police’s testing of its facial recognition algorithm has identified disproportionately higher inaccuracy rates when attempting to identify people of color and women.

According to Big Brother Watch, Black men are the most significant proportion of those flagged by the LFR system and subjected to police intervention.

They also found that most misidentifications have affected young Black boys and children.

“This important call from MPs to urgently stop live facial recognition represents the greatest involvement parliamentarians have ever had in Britain’s approach to facial recognition software,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch.

“The UK’s reckless approach to face surveillance makes us a total outlier in the democratic world, especially against the backdrop of the EU’s proposed ban.”

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.