Face Off

Stop the Police using authoritarian facial recognition cameras


Update: May 2019

Right now, the Metropolitan Police is deciding whether to roll out live facial recognition PERMANENTLY on our streets.

Police claim the public supports facial recognition surveillance – we think they’re wrong.

Don’t miss your chance to tell the police what YOU think – follow the link below to contact the police and tell them what you really think.




Despite the evidence that live facial recognition cameras pose a threat to our privacy, freedom of expression, and right of association, the Metropolitan Police are continuing to use this authoritarian technology in public spaces.

This needs to end.

Together with Baroness Jenny Jones we’ve launched a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary to demand an immediate end to the police’s use of live facial recognition. This dangerous Orwellian surveillance tool has no place on our streets and if the police don’t stop using it – we will take them to court.

With the public’s support, we raised £10,000 on CrowdJustice for our legal challenge. Thank you!

If you or someone you know has been affected by live facial recognition, let us know by sending an email to info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk.




Joint statement on police and private company facial recognition surveillance

Live Facial Recognition: Introduction


What is automated facial recognition?

It’s a relatively new technology, in which facial recognition-linked cameras scan crowds and public spaces in attempt to identify people in real-time, by matching faces against a database. The face of each and every person passing by an automated facial recognition camera will be scanned and analysed, effectively subjecting everyone within view to a covert biometric identity check.

How have police been using automated facial recognition?

Leicestershire Police, the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police have used the technology at public events. Police have used automated facial recognition to identify and monitor petty criminals, individuals with mental health issues and peaceful protesters.

How does automated facial recognition affect our rights and freedoms?

Facial recognition cameras are biometric checkpoints – much like DNA or fingerprint checkpoints. They biometrically assess the identities of passers-by, turning us into walking ID cards. Although the use of the technology with CCTV poses a serious threat to the right to individual privacy and freedom of expression, the police are currently using facial recognition without any legal basis or parliamentary scrutiny. There is also a risk that the technology could have discriminatory impact. Multiple studies have found that facial recognition technology inherits racial and gender biases that disproportionately misidentify people of colour and women.

Our report reveals that UK police’s facial recognition ‘matches’ are almost entirely inaccurate, and some people are being stopped and asked to produce their ID to prove their innocence. Police have stored images of thousands of innocent people wrongly identified by the technology, creating a biometric database of innocent people – without their knowledge.

Why is the retention of innocent people’s images an issue?

When someone is arrested and taken into custody the police the police will take photographs of a suspect’s face. However, unlike fingerprints and DNA an individual’s custody image is not automatically deleted – it can be shared among police forces and used for biometric databases.

Being arrested does not make you guilty of a crime.

If you want to know more about the retention of innocent people’s custody images click here.


Live facial recognition: the facts


The police’s facial recognition tools have wrongly identified innocent people up to 98% of the time

Using a series of Freedom of Information requests Big Brother Watch uncovered the full extent of automated facial recognition by UK police forces.

Our original investigation revealed:

  • South Wales Police store photos of all innocent people incorrectly matched by facial recognition for a year, without their knowledge, resulting in a biometric database of over 2,400 innocent people
  • Home Office spent £2.6m funding South Wales Police’s use of the technology, although it is “almost entirely inaccurate”
  • Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition matches were 98% inaccurate, misidentifying 95 people at last year’s Notting Hill Carnival as criminals – yet the force still carried out 7 more deployments in 2018
  • South Wales Police’s matches were 91% inaccurate – yet the force continued to target more concerts, sports matches and even Christmas markets in 2018


List of events and dates where South Wales Police has used live facial recognition

EventDateTrue-positive (correct) identificationsFalse-positive (incorrect) identificationsPolice stopping people ('interventions') following incorrect identifications
UEFA Champions League Final Week (Cardiff Airport, Train station and City Centre)29/05/2017 - 03/06/20171732,5545
Elvis Festival (Porthcawl)23/09/2017 - 24/09/20171071
Operation Fulcrum 'Day of Action' (Cardiff)19/10/20175112
Anthony Joshua v Kubrat Pulev Boxing (Cardiff)28/10/20175462
Wales v Australia Rugby (Cardiff)11/11/20176422
Wales v Georgia Rugby (Cardiff)18/11/2017120
Wales v New Zealand Rugby (Cardiff)25/11/2017392
Wales v South Africa Rugby (Cardiff)02/12/20175185
Kasabian Concert (Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff)04/12/2017430
Liam Gallagher Concert (Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff)13/12/2017600
Operation Fulcrum 'Day of Action' (Cardiff)22/12/2017851
Operation Malecite 'Festive Deployment' (Swansea)23/12/2017200
Royal Visit - Prince Harry (Cardiff)18/01/2018000
Wales v Scotland Rugby (Cardiff)03/02/2018671
Stereophonics (Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff)07/03/2018051
Wales v Italy Rugby (Cardiff)11/03/20180197
Wales v France Rugby (Cardiff City Centre)17/03/2018674
Arms Fair demonstration (Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff)27/03/2018100
BBC Biggest Weekend (Singleton Park, Swansea)26/05/2018 - 27/05/20182100
Stereophonics (Cardiff City Stadium)09/06/2018051
The Rolling Stones (Millenium Stadium, Cardiff)15/06/2018116
Ed Sheeran concerts (Millenium Stadium, Cardiff)21/06/2018 - 24/06/20188102
Northern Retail17/08/2019 - 19/08/2019010
Elvis Festival (Porthcawl)28/09/2018 – 30/09/2018200
Wales v Scotland Rugby (Cardiff)03/11/2018911
Wales v Australia Rugby (Cardiff)10/11/2018610
Wales v Tonga Rugby (Cardiff)17/11/2018201
Wales v South Africa Rugby (Cardiff)24/11/2018410
'Operation Avalanche' (Location unknown)28/11/2018000
'Operation Avalanche' (Location unknown)30/11/2018200
'Operation Encore'04/12/2018000
'Operation Fulcrum' (Location unknown)18/12/2018013
'Operation Cristo' (Location unknown)10/01/2019200
Wales v England (Six Nations Rugby)23/02/2019481
Wales v Ireland (Six Nations Rugby)16/03/2019071
'Day of Action' (location unknown)05/04/2019311
'Day of Action' (location unknown)09/04/2019000
Catfish and the Bottlemen concert (Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff)05/05/2019000
'Day of Action' (location unknown)09/05/2019000
'Operation Cristo'16/05/2019000
Spice Girls Concert27/05/2019691
'Operation Sceptre'07/06/2019000
Take That08/06/2019250


List of events and dates where Metropolitan Police has used live facial recognition

EventDateTrue-positive (correct) identificationsFalse-positive (incorrect) identificationsPolice stopping people ('interventions') following incorrect identifications
Notting Hill Carnival 201628/08/2016 - 29/08/201601?
Notting Hill Carnival 201726/08/2017 - 27/08/2017195?
Remembrance Day 201711/11/2017161
Port of Hull docks (with Humberside Police)13/06/2018 - 14/06/2018000
Stratford Westfield28/06/2018051
Stratford Westfield26/07/2018011
Central London (Piccadilly and Leicester Square)17/12/2018 - 18/12/20182122
Romford Town Centre31/01/2019372
Romford Town Centre14/02/20193135


Freedom of Information: Responses

You can see all responses we received from Metropolitan Police, South Wales Police and other forces around the country HERE.


Our Report

In addition to these findings, our report “Face Off: the lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing” gives the full results of our investigation, an analysis of the legal and human rights implications, and includes guest contributions from allies worldwide warning about the impact of facial recognition including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Georgetown Law, and the Race Equality Foundation.

Download the report here:


Our Legal Challenge

Together with Baroness Jenny Jones, we sent pre-action letters to the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary on 13th June 2018, below, to demand an immediate end to the police’s use of live facial recognition.

Click to read:











On 25th July 2018 we issued our claim in the High Court.

This dangerous Orwellian surveillance tool has no place on our streets and if the police don’t stop using it – we will take them to court.

We have raised £10,000 for our legal fees via CrowdJustice. Over 280 people supported our challenge. Thank you.

More to follow…


#FaceOff Pledge

We call on UK public authorities to immediately stop using automated facial recognition software with surveillance cameras

We are deeply concerned about the impact of automated facial recognition on individuals’ rights to a private life and freedom of expression, and the risk of discriminatory impact

We call on the Home Office to automatically remove the thousands of images of unconvicted individuals from the Police National Database

Big Brother Watch

Article 19


Football Supporters Federation

Index on Censorship

The Monitoring Group


Institute of Race Relations


Open Rights Group

Police Action Lawyers Group

Race Equality Foundation

Race On The Agenda

Runnymede Trust

Tottenham Rights

Baroness Jenny Jones

David Lammy MP

Sir Edward Davey MP

Lord Strasburger


Media Coverage