Big Brother Watch response to judgment on South Wales Police use of facial recognition

Today’s judgment acknowledges that live facial recognition surveillance by South Wales Police interferes with the public’s privacy rights but contends that its use, even to monitor peaceful protesters, is lawful. We feel that people in Wales have been let down and are pleased that Mr Bridges intends to appeal this profoundly disappointing judgment, which failed to grasp the intrusive nature of this technology.

We are now waiting for the Metropolitan Police to decide whether they intend to use live facial recognition surveillance again. If they do, we’ll take them to court.

The independent review into their use of the surveillance was utterly damning and found it was both staggeringly inaccurate and highly likely to be found unlawful. Just this week, Cressida Dick warned of the risk of new surveillance technologies being used to create an “omniscient police state”, which is ironic because live facial recognition is arguably the most oppressive surveillance technology the Met uses in public. We urge her to focus on more effective and democratic policing methods and drop live facial recognition.

The rapid advance of surveillance technology clearly presents new challenges for our legal system and society as a whole. There still has not been a single debate in the House of Commons on live facial recognition nor a single British law that contains the words facial recognition, yet we now have an epidemic of the surveillance across the country.

Several cities in the US have banned live facial recognition surveillance and it is long overdue that our parliament does the same. The British public do not want to be walking ID cards subjected to a constant police line up.

We’re a nation that cherishes civil liberties, not a Chinese-style police state. Live facial recognition doesn’t fit in a democracy and we will fight until it is banned.

– Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo