A heavily redacted correspondence between the Policing Minister, Chris Philp and a private firm Facewatch reveals that the Minister would “do everything possible” to promote the widespread use of facial recognition technology. The evidence reveals that the Minister secretly lobbied the Information Commissioner’s Office to act “favourably” towards Facewatch.
Facial recognition technology has been repeatedly criticised by privacy rights campaigners for being vastly invasive, inaccurate and discriminatory. Facewatch is a private firm selling this controversial software to retailers combatting shoplifting. But the firm has recently been in hot water for its disproportionate use of this technology.
Mark Johnson, Advocacy Manager for civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said:
“This disclosure is utterly damning and appears to show that Chris Philp intervened in the data regulator’s investigation of a private facial recognition company he was having meetings with.
“It raises serious questions as to whether Philp and his officials influenced the regulator’s notable leniency towards the company. Indeed, data regulators operating under the same law in other European countries have issued multi-million-pound fines over live facial recognition being used to spy on shoppers, whilst Facewatch got off scot-free in the UK.
“Correspondence from Philp to Facewatch makes for deeply uncomfortable reading and portrays the Minister as more of a lobbyist for this facial recognition firm than a Minister of the Crown. It’s disturbing that these heavily redacted letters reveal Philp was giving full-throated support to Facewatch, at the taxpayer’s expense, both during the investigation and after the company was found to have breached a raft of privacy laws.
“It’s unbelievable that a UK minister is batting for private companies selling dystopian mass surveillance tech that is rarely seen outside of China and Russia. The Government should be clear that this Orwellian tech has no place at all on Britain’s high streets, and focus on fixing our broken policing rather than cosying up to tech companies that have nothing to do with police whatsoever. Philp’s actions will damage public trust in the independence of ministers and regulators, and should be fully investigated.”