65 parliamentarians call for “immediate stop” to live facial recognition surveillance

Big Brother Watch Team / October 6, 2023

65 parliamentarians call for “immediate stop” to live facial recognition surveillance

  • MPs across parties including David Davis MP, Sir Ed Davey MP, Baroness Shami Chakrabarti, Joanna Cherry KC MP and Caroline Lucas MP call for an urgent stop to face surveillance
  • The call is backed by 31 rights and race quality groups including Big Brother Watch, Liberty, Amnesty International and the Race Equality Foundation
  • Earlier this week the Policing Minister revealed plans to make all 45 million passport photos searchable with police facial recognition for minor crime

A coalition of 65 parliamentarians and 31 rights and race equality organisations have called for an urgent stop to the use facial recognition surveillance by the police and private companies.

In a joint call backed by former Brexit Secretary David Davis MP, Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey, Green MP Caroline Lucas and former Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti amongst others, the group warns of “serious concerns” about the “incompatibility with human rights” and “discriminatory impacts” of facial recognition surveillance.

The parliamentarians’ statement criticises a “lack of an evidence base (…), the lack of a sufficient legal basis, (…) and the lack of a democratic mandate” to justify the use of the controversial technology.

This cross-party action comes one month before the UK’s AI safety summit, and closely follows the Policing Minister’s unprecedented announcement earlier this week that the government will seek to make all 45 million UK passport photos accessible and searchable by police with facial recognition technology in relation to minor crimes such as bicycle thefts and shoplifting.

Governments around the world are considering whether to prohibit or permit the use of live facial recognition. Whilst the 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. Critics have raised concerns about the composition of so-called “watchlists” which could include victims, suspects, people thought to pose a risk of harm to themselves, and associates of any of those people. Police have previously populated watchlists with protestors not wanted for any offences whatsoever, and people with mental health issues not suspected of any offences.

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 has 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. According to Big Brother Watch, who regularly attend and observe the Metropolitan Police’s live facial recognition deployments, black men make up the biggest proportion of those flagged by the LFR system and subjected to police intervention and the majority of misidentifications have affected young black boys and even children. Despite the controversial nature of the technology, there is no specific law on facial recognition and the House of Commons has never formally debated its use.

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.

Only last month, over 180 rights groups and technology experts issued a public call for a global stop to facial recognition surveillance. The international action, taken by 120 civil society organisations working across six continents and over 60 experts called for a stop to the use of facial recognition for the surveillance of publicly-accessible spaces and for the surveillance of people in migration or asylum contexts.


Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“This important call from MPs to urgently stop live facial recognition represents the greatest involvement parliamentarians have ever had in Britain’s approach to facial recognition surveillance.

“With the Government now planning to turn all of our passport photos into mugshots for facial recognition scanning, yet again absent any democratic scrutiny, this intervention could not come at a more important time. This dangerously authoritarian technology has the potential to turn populations into walking ID cards in a constant police line up.

“The UK’s reckless approach to face surveillance makes us a total outlier in the democratic world, especially against the backdrop of the EU’s proposed ban.

“As hosts of the AI summit in autumn, the UK should show leadership in adopting new technologies in a rights-respecting way, rather than a way that mirrors the dystopian surveillance practices of Saudi Arabia and China. There must be an urgent stop to live facial recognition, parliamentary scrutiny and a much wider democratic debate before we introduce such a privacy-altering technology to British life.”




  • 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
  • Signatories of the statement include 38 MPs, 27 Peers and 31 NGOs.
  • You can find a copy of the statement and a full list of signatories below.

Joint statement on police and private company use of facial recognition surveillance in the UK

“The signatories to this call are rights organisations, race equality organisations, technology experts, and parliamentarians.

“We hold differing views about live facial recognition surveillance, ranging from serious concerns about its incompatibility with human rights, to the potential for discriminatory impact, the lack of safeguards, the lack of an evidence base, an unproven case of necessity or proportionality, the lack of a sufficient legal basis, the lack of parliamentary consideration, and the lack of a democratic mandate.

“However, all of these views lead us to the same following conclusion:

“We call on UK police and private companies to immediately stop using live facial recognition for public surveillance.”


1. David Davis MP
2. Diane Abbott MP
3. Christine Jardine MP
4. Ed Davey MP
5. Wera Hobhouse MP
6. Layla Moran MP
7. Tim Farron MP
8. Mick Whitley MP
9. Jamie Stone MP
10. John McDonnell MP
11. Caroline Lucas MP
12. Tommy Sheppard MP
13. Zarah Sultana MP
14. Valerie Vaz MP
15. Alistair Carmichael MP
16. Chris Green MP
17. Daisy Cooper MP
18. Wendy Chamberlain MP
19. Sarah Green MP
20. Sarah Olney MP
21. Munira Wilson MP
22. Ian Byrne MP
23. Dawn Butler MP
24. Clive Lewis MP
25. Bell Ribeiro-Addy MP
26. Nadia Whittome MP
27. Rachael Maskell MP
28. Apsana Begum MP
29. Beth Winter MP
30. Ian Lavery MP
31. Richard Foord MP
32. Richard Burgon MP
33. Rebecca Long Bailey MP
34. Andy McDonald MP
35. Joanna Cherry MP
36. Charles Walker MP
37. Marcus Fysh MP
38. Kim Johnson MP
39. Baroness Bennett
40. Lord Strasburger
41. Lord Clement-Jones
42. Baroness Jenny Jones
43. Baroness Shami Chakrabarti
44. Lord Strathcarron
45. Lord Freyberg
46. Lord Vaux
47. Lord Hendy
48. Lord Sikka
49. Baroness Ludford
50. Lord German
51. Lord Beith
52. Lord Marks
53. Baroness Hussein-Ece
54. Lord Dholakia
55. Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville
56. Baroness Hamwee
57. Baroness Harris of Richmond
58. Lord Oates
59. Lord Storey
60. Baroness Blower
61. Baron Davies of Brixton
62. Baron Woodley
63. Lord Skidelsky
64. Baroness Fox of Buckley
65. Lord Alton of Liverpool

Rights, race equality and technology organisations

1. Big Brother Watch
2. Amnesty International
3. Article 19
4. defenddigitalme
5. Fair Trials
6. Foxglove
8. Institute of Race Relations
9. Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants
10. Liberty
11. Netpol
12. Open Rights Group
13. Privacy International
14. Race Equality Foundation
15. Race on The Agenda
16. Runnymede Trust
17. Statewatch
18. StopWatch
19. The Monitoring Group
20. Tottenham Rights
21. Centre for Crime and Justice Studies
22. Yorkshire Resists
23. The Racial Justice Network
24. Migrants Rights Network
25. Public Law Project
26. Race Equality First
27. Northern Police Monitoring Group
28. Access Now
29. Revolving Doors
30. Index on Censorship
31. Human Rights Watch