City A.M. – The Notebook: Facial recognition CCTV is Orwellian. But it also doesn’t work

Big Brother Watch Team / May 13, 2024

Smile for the cameras?

As Londoners, we’re disturbingly used to our every step being recorded by CCTV cameras – but would we accept them being turned into live facial recognition cameras?

The Metropolitan Police used live facial recognition four times last week across the city – in Tooting, Kingston, Southall and Hounslow. This year, the force has been using the controversial tech every other day. The cameras biometrically scan our faces, comparing us to photos on police databases – in real-time.

At a time when crime is soaring under the city’s failing police force, anything that promises to crack down on crime will have some public appeal. But the tech is dangerously invasive, often inaccurate and woefully ineffective.

Recently, I went to Croydon to watch how police were using live facial recognition in the area. In the five minute walk from the station down to the deployment, I witnessed two men put on balaclavas and rob a corner shop in broad daylight. There wasn’t a police officer in sight. When I got to the deployment, there were 15 officers standing around, gazing at tablets waiting for supposedly wanted criminals to walk past their cameras and the “facial recognition in use” signs, essentially handing themselves in for arrest.

Unsurprisingly, the arrest rate is low. Already this year, the Met has scanned 125,000 innocent Londoners with facial recognition – only 0.1 per cent of scans led to an arrest. Some scans lead to misidentifications and innocent people being wrongly investigated.

It’s a terrible use of taxpayers’ money. But the worst cost is our liberty. High crime rates make us less free but so too does Orwellian policing. Live facial recognition has no place in London.

Shopping surveillance

It’s not just police using the Chinese-style cameras – some retailers in the city are now using live facial recognition at their entrances to alert staff to customers they don’t want in store.

Facial recognition company Facewatch, started by the owner of Embankment’s renowned Gordon’s Wine Bar, has sold its software to Sports Direct, Flannels, Southern Co-op supermarkets and other stores.

You don’t need a conviction to end up on the private spying database – rather, shops add photos of customers taken from CCTV that they allege have stolen or been antisocial in the store.

We all want criminals brought to justice – but this private security system doesn’t involve the criminal justice system at all and risks intrusion and injustice for innocent customers.

Every week, people contact us at Big Brother Watch with horror stories of being misidentified by the private facial recognition system as a thief and publicly thrown out of stores. Has it happened to you? Get in touch:

Time for action

Tomorrow, I’m going to 10 Downing Street to deliver a petition against government bank spying plans, signed by 170,000 people. The government is sneaking in powers to force banks to constantly scan all our accounts on the premise of looking for secret criteria that could indicate potential welfare fraud or errors. The algorithmic surveillance plan has the ingredients of a Horizon scandal on steroids.

Our petition against the snooper’s charter recently made the front page of this newspaper. There’s still time to sign at

City A.M. – The Notebook: Facial recognition CCTV is Orwellian. But it also doesn’t work