There has been a surge in police use of facial recognition technology despite independent reviews citing human rights concerns, discrimination, and many incidences of innocent people being wrongly identified as criminals.
Despite this, the UK Government is still pushing for greater facial recognition surveillance in policing and supermarkets. A call for an urgent stop to governments and private companies using this surveillance has been made by leading human rights groups, and technology and equality organisations across the world.
This international action, taken by over 60 experts and 120 civil society organisations working across six continents comes at a time when governments worldwide are considering whether to prohibit or permit the use of live facial recognition, according to the UK Big Brother Watch group (BBW).
The BBW “works to roll back the surveillance state and protect the rights of everyone in the UK to be free from unfair intrusion” according to their Director, Silkie Carlo.”
“In a joint statement, the expert voices warn of serious concerns about the human rights and discriminatory impacts of facial recognition surveillance, as well as an insufficient evidence base, safeguards, legal bases, and democratic mandates to justify the use of the controversial technology,” she says (source)
The full statement and full list of signatories are available here: source
Artificial Intelligence Act
Subsequently, this would mean rejecting an amendment that could have paved the way for law enforcement to resort to real-time biometric identification in exceptional cases. according to Euronews, who say that the total ban is part of a draft piece of legislation, known as the Artificial Intelligence Act, that aims to ensure the development of human-centric, ethically responsible, and environmentally sustainable AI systems across Europe.”
Euronews explains that: “Biometrics refers to systems that analyse biological features, such as facial traits, eye structures, and fingerprints, to determine a person’s identity, usually without the person’s consent. Its possible use by government agencies has been often linked to mass surveillance and authoritarian regimes.“
“The debate,” they add, “has been inevitably shaped by developments in China, where the “Communist Party has rolled out a massive, sophisticated network of facial recognition cameras to monitor the country’s population and many MEPs describe the practice as “incompatible with democratic values”
US Cities “Bad Matches”
Several US cities have also banned the technology, and by the end of 2020, there were roughly 18 cities that had laws banning the use of facial recognition in policing and in 2021, another five municipalities had passed bans.
However, New Orleans overturned a ban on police use of the software in July 2022, but a report examined the city’s police use of facial recognition from October 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023, and found that zero arrests were made, and they only found five potential identities two of which were judged “bad matches” (source).
This is a very common issue according to research conducted by organisations such as BBW, which discovered that over 89% of facial recognition alerts generated by UK police have incorrectly identified members of the public as individuals of interest. Studies both internationally and from the UK’s Metropolitan Police’s own evaluations indicate significantly higher error rates, particularly when attempting to identify people of colour and women.
Despite this and the fact, that the use of facial recognition technology does not align with the UK’s rapidly diminishing “democratic values” the “expansion of Orwellian facial recognition technology in the UK has continued at an alarming pace” since their first report on face scanning cameras, Face Off The Lawless Growth of Facial Recognition in UK Policing, was published in May 2018, says the BBW.
The report, “sparked a national conversation and “the Metropolitan Police committed to pursue no more than 10 “trial” deployments”, that would be subjected to an independent review, before making a decision as to whether to operationally deploy the technology.” claims the BBW
The resulting independent review was also “damning,” according to BBW, who highlighted again that a huge 81 percent who were in fact, innocent people innocent people have been misidentified and through being flagged by the live facial recognition. Additionally, it was also said to be “highly possible” that the Metropolitan Police’s use of the surveillance technology would be found to be unlawful if it were challenged in court (source).
Surge in police use of facial recognition
Nevertheless, the police have accumulated a substantial facial recognition database containing the faces of “hundreds of thousands” of innocent individuals. The utilisation of retrospective data by law enforcement is heightening the risk of misidentifying more individuals, especially people of colour.
The ongoing failure of the police to comply with the legal requirement to delete the custody images of unconvicted people, means that innocent people could find themselves wrongly labelled as criminal.” says Madeline Stone, adding “We urgently need a democratic, lawful approach to the role of facial biometrics in Britain, and without this, police forces should not be using this Orwellian technology at all,” she said (source).
Worryingly, many of those on the database were never charged or acquitted of a criminal offence after their arrest, according to a report by the Morning Star.
Chris Jones, director of Statewatch, said: “There is a significant possibility for innocent people to be wrongly identified and potentially even charged and convicted through the use of this technology.” (source).
Supermarket Privacy Breaches
This is also true of the facial recognition technology used in supermarkets. The UK’s Information Commissioner recently found that facial recognition firm Facewatch, whose software is used by retailers across the UK including Southern Co-op supermarkets, had breached a string of privacy rules including the requirement that data is processed lawfully, fairly, and transparently, and the data rights of children.
However, the ICO did not publish this information until it was demanded via the Freedom of Information Act and did not penalise the company. A recent investigation found that the Policing Minister had threatened to write a public letter to the Commissioner during its probe into Facewatch unless the outcome was “favourable” to the company.
The following excerpt was published in the Guardian:
A Great Cost to Our Civil Liberties
It would appear that even with all of its issues, the government has no intention of banning facial recognition surveillance, more than likely as it is a necessary tool for the totalitarian control they plan for us.
Silkie Carlo, asserts: “A huge chorus of international experts are raising the alarm about intrusive, AI-powered facial recognition surveillance and it is vital that the British government sits up and listens. This dangerously authoritarian technology has the potential to turn populations into walking ID cards and every democracy ought to ban it.“
“As hosts of the AI summit in autumn, the UK should show leadership in adopting new technologies in a way that has material benefits for the public and our rights, rather than a way that mirrors the dystopian surveillance practices of Saudi Arabia and China. Live facial recognition surveillance has been an expensive failure, with significant costs to the public purse and our civil liberties at a time when both need far more careful protection.” (source).
All information above can be found on the Big Brother Watch website here.
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