180+ tech experts call for global stop to facial recognition surveillance

Big Brother Watch Team / September 26, 2023

Over 180 rights groups and tech experts call for global stop to facial recognition surveillance

    • Rights groups across the world warn of serious human rights issues with facial recognition tech
    • Signatories include Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, Access Now, and European Digital Rights
    • Call follows UK Government push for greater facial recognition surveillance in policing and supermarkets

Leading human rights, technology and equality organisations and experts across the world have called for an urgent stop to governments and private companies using facial recognition surveillance.

In a joint statement, the expert voices warn of serious concerns about the human rights and discriminatory impacts of facial recognition surveillance, as well as an insufficient evidence base, safeguards, legal bases and democratic mandates to justify the use of the controversial technology.

The international action, taken by 120 civil society organisations working across six continents and over 60 experts, comes at a time when governments around the world are considering whether to prohibit or permit the use of live facial recognition. Whilst European Parliament has endorsed a blanket ban on police using AI-powered facial recognition surveillance under the AI Act and several US cities have banned the technology, the UK’s approach has been described as an “outlier”. In the UK, uses of live facial recognition surveillance have recently increased in the retail sector and some police forces.

Live facial recognition surveillance, whereby individuals’ faces are biometrically scanned by cameras in real-time and compared against a database, has been used in recent months at the Coronation of King Charles II, sports events, concerts and central London. Research by Big Brother Watch, one of the groups that co-ordinated the international statement, found that over 89% of UK police facial recognition alerts to date have wrongly identified members of the public as people of interest. International research, and the Metropolitan Police’s own testing of its facial recognition algorithm, have identified disproportionately higher inaccuracy rates when attempting to identify people of colour and women, which the force has attempted to mitigate by adjusting its algorithm’s settings.

The UK’s Information Commissioner recently found that facial recognition firm Facewatch, whose software is used by retailers across the UK including Southern Co-op supermarkets, had breached a string of privacy rules including the requirement that data is processed lawfully, fairly and transparently, and the data rights of children. However, the ICO did not publish this information until it was demanded via the Freedom of Information Act and did not penalise the company. A recent investigation found that the Policing Minister had threatened to write a public letter to the Commissioner during its probe into Facewatch, unless the outcome was “favourable” to the company.


Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“A huge chorus of international experts are raising the alarm about intrusive, AI-powered facial recognition surveillance and it is vital that the British government sits up and listens. This dangerously authoritarian technology has the potential to turn populations into walking ID cards and every democracy ought to be ban it.

“As hosts of the AI summit in autumn, the UK should show leadership in adopting new technologies in a way that has material benefits for the public and our rights, rather than a way that mirrors the dystopian surveillance practices of Saudi Arabia and China. Live facial recognition surveillance has been an expensive failure, with significant costs to the public purse and our civil liberties at a time when both need far more careful protection.”

Ella Jakubowska, Senior Policy Advisor at European Digital Rights (EDRi) said:

“With the upcoming Artificial Intelligence Act, the European Union has the chance to become a world leader in protecting people from public facial recognition and other biometric surveillance. European Parliamentarians have spoken loud and clear in support of strong bans.

“Worryingly, EU governments continue to push back, citing vague claims of ‘safety’ and ‘security’ without providing any objective evidence. They want an unlimited margin of discretion to subject our faces, our bodies and our communities to these dystopian uses of technology, despite a complete lack of democratic mandate.”

Anna Bacciarelli, Associate Tech Director at Human Rights Watch said:

“Facial recognition surveillance is a huge risk to human rights everywhere. As governments around the world experiment with facial recognition programs, we are taking a stand against this intrusive, powerful tech that creates the ability to surveil and profile people in real time on an unforeseen scale.

“There is consensus among human rights experts around the globe that the only solution is to urgently ban facial recognition surveillance: it’s imperative that governments and companies act on this to safeguard human rights now and in the future.”



• Spokespeople are available for interview – please contact 07730439257 or info@bigbrotherwatch.org.uk
• Big Brother Watch is at the forefront of the UK campaign to stop live facial recognition surveillance – our campaign page, with details our latest research and investigations, including facial recognition inaccuracy statistics, is available at StopFacialRecognition.org
• The full statement and full list of signatories is available here: https://edri.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/09/Global-statement-Stop-facial-recognition-now.pdf