Campaigners urge Met to drop “disastrous” facial recognition

Today, MPs will debate facial recognition for the first time as civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch reveals major police facial recognition failures, and the Met decides future use of facial recognition surveillance.

New statistics obtained by Big Brother Watch under the Freedom of Information Act reveal:

  • Overall, 96% of Met’s facial recognition matches misidentified innocent members of the public in the 8 deployments between 2016-2018
  • Police TWICE scored a 100% misidentification rate in two separate deployments at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, London

Big Brother Watch describes shocking police incidents they observed during facial recognition uses:

  • A 14 year-old black CHILD in school uniform was stopped and fingerprinted by police after being misidentified by facial recognition
  • Innocent members of the public not captured by the cameras due to hooded coats or scarves were made to show ID
  • An innocent man was fined after objecting to the face-scanning

The Metropolitan Police’s facial recognition use has been slammed as “disastrous for policing and the future of civil liberties” by campaigners today, as new statistics emerge revealing a 96% misidentification rate.

Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch obtained figures from 8 of the Met’s 10 deployments of the controversial surveillance cameras using the Freedom of Information Act. The figures show that during two deployments at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford in 2018, 100% of police facial recognition matches wrongly identified innocent people as potential criminals.

Biometric photos of members of the public wrongly identified as potential criminals are taken without their knowledge and stored on police databases for 30 days.

Police refused to release figures from two deployments in 2019 on the grounds that they are intended for future publication.

Big Brother Watch has sent a briefing to all MPs disclosing their observations ofover-policing” and wrongful police interventions at facial recognition deployments. In one disturbing case, the group witnessed a 14 year-old black child in school uniform being stopped, questioned and fingerprinted on his way home from school by a team of plainclothes police officers following a facial recognition misidentification.

The alarming accounts have intensified concerns among campaign groups, who called on police to drop the new surveillance technology last year. Alongside Big Brother Watch, fifteen leading rights groups backed the call and warned about the impact of live facial recognition on rights and discrimination in the UK.

The revelations come as the Met prepares publish its decision on its future use of facial recognition surveillance, which could be followed by police forces around the country. The decision is expected within weeks.

In written evidence to parliament’s Science and Technology Committee, the Met recently told MPs it was “working to further mitigate potential impact” of “the system response with respect to different demographics” (1), suggesting it does intend to continue using the surveillance tool.

If the Met decides to continue using live facial recognition surveillance, Big Brother Watch has vowed to take the force and the Home Office to court.

Big Brother Watch announced today that it has reached its crowdfunding goal of £10,000 to bring the legal challenge. The group, bringing the challenge with with Baroness Jenny Jones, claims that live facial recognition surveillance breaches fundamental human rights protecting privacy and freedom of expression and that police lack a legal basis to use it.

The Westminster Hall debate on facial recognition and the Home Office biometrics strategy will take place this afternoon – the first time MPs have debated the technology despite police using it for over three years.

Director of Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo said:

This is a turning point for civil liberties in the UK. If police push ahead with facial recognition surveillance, members of the public could be tracked across Britain’s colossal CCTV networks.

For a nation that opposed ID cards and rejected the national DNA database, the notion of live facial recognition turning citizens into walking ID cards is chilling.

This China-style mass surveillance tool is the very antithesis of British democratic freedom and police using it on our streets sets a dangerous example to countries around the world. It would be disastrous for policing and the future of civil liberties and we urge police to drop it for good”.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

For enquires and interviews, please contact 07730 439257 / 020 7340 6030 / info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk

The Freedom of Information responses from the Metropolitan Police can be accessed here: https://bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/all-campaigns/freedom-of-information-requests/

Big Brother Watch’s briefing for MPs ahead of today’s debate can be downloaded here: https://bigbrotherwatch.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Big-Brother-Watch-briefing-on-Facial-recognition-and-the-biometric-strategy-for-Westminster-Hall-debate-1-May-2019.pdf

Big Brother Watch’s CrowdJustice campaign raised £8,500 from 283 backers. An additional backer donated £1,500 for the legal challenge to Big Brother Watch directly. The campaign can be found here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/face-off/

In May 2018, 15 NGOs called on police to stop using live facial recognition: Big Brother Watch, Article 19, defenddigitalme, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Institute of Race Relations, Liberty, The Monitoring Group, Netpol, Open Rights Group, Police Action Lawyers Group, Race Equality Foundation, Race On The Agenda, Runnymede Trust, Tottenham Rights.

(1) Written evidence submitted by Metropolitan Police Service (WBC0005), 19 March 2019: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/science-and-technology-committee/the-work-of-the-biometrics-commissioner-and-the-forensic-science-regulator/written/97851.pdf