The Telegraph – Britain is sleepwalking into a Beijing-style surveillance nightmare

Big Brother Watch Team / May 9, 2023

The eyes of the world were on the United Kingdom this weekend, as millions were transfixed by the uniquely British, ancient ceremony that ties our deep past with our uncertain future. And what an uncertain future it is. Because also watching the historic event were high-tech, police facial recognition cameras – while separately, a new suite of Chinese-made Hikvision AI cameras scanned the procession. We can expect this to become the norm for large-scale events in future.

The Coronation was, rightly, a policing operation of magnificent proportions. But the Metropolitan Police’s use of live facial recognition cameras was unjustified, and a sharp break from British culture on a day that was otherwise defined by it. The cameras scanned tens of thousands of people’s faces in real time, conducting passport-style identity checks to see if any of the well-wishers looked like people known to the police – whether a suspect, witness or victim.

This is widely thought to have been the biggest live facial recognition operation ever in the West. The technology is more commonly seen policing the streets of Beijing, enforcing the Chinese Communist Party’s social credit system and aiding in their ethnic persecution of Uyghurs. This weekend, it was used during a glittering celebration in the heart of London.

The use of such surveillance technology means that hundreds of thousands of people were not only part of a once-in-a-generation, historic event but part of a high-tech police line-up.

The great 20th century novelists who warned against the risks of a dystopian future would be rolling in their graves. The Met’s facial recognition surveillance is both Orwellian and Kafkaesque – 86 per cent of the force’s facial recognition “matches” over recent years have in fact wrongly flagged innocent people as potential criminals, risking a situation where they are then forced to prove their innocence. The technology is both dangerously inaccurate and dangerously authoritarian.

But facial recognition technology does more than invoke the nightmares of dystopian fiction. It stamps on the centuries-old common law rights of the “free-born Englishman”, principally the right to be left alone – that is, to act freely and unimpeded – unless you have done anything wrong. Britons have never had to identify ourselves to police officers, our fellow citizens in uniform, without reason. Suspicion has always been required to permit intrusive surveillance. But we now have no choice but to undergo identity checks by faceless AI cameras that have no technical need to ask for our permission. As one tradition was celebrated this weekend, another was lost. We have long been a nation of subjects – we are now becoming a nation of suspects.

I have been struck by the commentators who have remarked that such technocratic transformations are “inevitable” and that the task, if any, is to merely regulate this tidal wave of intrusive modernity. But nothing is inevitable in a democracy. The suggestion that the architecture of high-tech authoritarianism is the organic product of the unassailable forces of modernity comes dangerously close to apologism for those nations that are deliberately driving the production and deployment of it. And in a country such as ours, defined by our preservation of ancient traditions and centuries-old laws and values, the argument does not wash.

Some may welcome Britain’s use of the policing technology popularised by the CCP as modern, efficient, and an improvement on the human police recognisers who could never remember so many faces to find in such vast crowds. Some are reassured that the police are not, yet, using the AI technology to record your identity if you’re not of interest to them, and that the highly sensitive biometric data the algorithm takes from your face is soon discarded unless you’re flagged. But the notion that if one has “nothing to hide” one has “nothing to fear” from intrusion has never fit in a free country. Our common law means that when a man has nothing to hide, authorities have no right to interfere with him.

Moreover, don’t we all have something to fear from becoming a CCP-style surveillance state? Perhaps too few of us are aware to be afraid. But unless Parliament fully scrutinises and challenges the use of this powerful tool, we are sleepwalking into a future we will struggle to wake up from.

– Silkie Carlo
Director, Big Brother Watch

The Telegraph – Britain is sleepwalking into a Beijing-style surveillance nightmare

GB News – Facial recognition cameras slammed as INVASIVE ‘Orwellian, dystopian technology’