Big Brother Watch response to planned police use of “authoritarian” facial recognition

Big Brother Watch Team / December 14, 2018

Campaigners Big Brother Watch criticise police surveillance tool as new statistics show worsening misidentifications.

  • Police plan to use facial recognition in Central London on 17 and 18 December 2018.
  • New figures show Met’s facial recognition has got even WORSE – matches on latest deployments 100% inaccurate.
  • The AI facial recognition technology can scan over 300 faces a second
  • The force is facing a human rights legal challenge from Big Brother Watch and peer Baroness Jenny Jones against their use of the controversial surveillance tool.

Police have come under fire from civil liberties campaigners for their continued use of live facial recognition surveillance, which Big Brother Watch has branded “authoritarian, dangerous and lawless.”

The campaign group obtained statistics using Freedom of Information requests in May that exposed the Met’s facial recognition ‘matches’ as 98% inaccurate.

But new police figures obtained by Big Brother Watch reveal that 100% of the Met’s facial recognition matches since May have incorrectly matched innocent members of the public with people on police watch lists.

Their photos are stored on police databases for one month nonetheless.

The Met’s China-style surveillance cameras scan the faces of everyone in a crowd, creating unique biometric maps of each individual’s face and matching them against watch lists created from the police’s huge store of 21 million photos.

However, during two recent deployments at Westfield shopping centre in Stratford, London, and another at the Port of Hull, police facial recognition continued to misidentify innocent members of the public.

Big Brother Watch claims that the surveillance is “dangerous” and argues that monitoring innocent people in public is a breach of fundamental rights to privacy and freedom of speech and assembly.

Police have previously used live facial recognition to identify peaceful demonstrators at an arms fair and to target innocent people with mental health problems.

It was recently revealed by researchers at Cardiff University that the cameras have a frighteningly powerful potential to surveil the public, with the capability to recognise as many as 300 faces a second – or 18,000 in a minute.

In June, Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones launched a crowdfunded legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police and the Home Secretary’s use of facial recognition surveillance. However, police plan to use the technology four more times before the end of 2018.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The police’s use of this authoritarian surveillance tool in total absence of a legal or democratic basis is alarming. Live facial recognition is a form of mass surveillance that, if allowed to continue, will turn members of the public into walking ID cards.

“As with all mass surveillance tools, it is the general public who suffer more than criminals. The fact that it has been utterly useless so far shows what a terrible waste of police time and public money it is. It is well overdue that police drop this dangerous and lawless technology.”

The Information Commissioner has identified the police’s use of live facial recognition as a priority area of concern and warned police and the Home Office that she will consider taking legal action.

Greater Manchester Police recently suspended a secret 6 month deployment of live facial recognition which was scanning shoppers at a major shopping centre, after concerns were raised by the Surveillance Camera Commissioner. The Commissioner warned that the use of facial recognition was disproportionate as “compared to the scale and size of the processing of all people passing a camera, the group they might hope to identify was minuscule”.

Even industry leaders in facial recognition technology have warned about the potential dangers of the technology if left in the wrong hands, with researchers from Google and Microsoft calling the technology “oppressive”. Microsoft’s President Brad Smith warned that “the use of facial recognition by a government for mass surveillance can encroach on democratic freedoms” and urged careful consideration of the tool’s use before “the year 2024 looks like the book ‘1984’”.





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Big Brother Watch’s CrowdJustice campaign can be found here:

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones have instructed Rosa Curling and Anna Dews of Leigh Day Solicitors, Stephen Cragg QC and Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers.

Big Brother Watch’s report, Face Off: the lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing can be found here:


Big Brother Watch launched its campaign against the police’s use of automated facial recognition in parliament in May with 15 NGOs: 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.