New report says Government should “urgently stop live facial recognition” in the UK

Big Brother Watch Team / May 23, 2023

Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has warned that the growth of facial recognition surveillance is getting “out of control” in the UK and that live facial recognition cameras should be “urgently banned”.

A new report published by the NGO shows a significant increase in the use of facial recognition for surveillance purposes in the UK by both the police and the private sector. This is despite the technology not being mentioned in any UK laws or debated by the House of Commons.

Biometric Britain: The Expansion of Facial Recognition Surveillance, lays out in detail how the police, retailers, tech companies and even some schools are investing huge sums of money into the surveillance technology.

Five years on from Big Brother Watch’s report Face Off: The Lawless Growth of Facial Recognition in UK Police, which revealed that the Metropolitan Police’s live facial recognition matches were 98% inaccurate at that time, Biometric Britain shows the extent to which the use of facial recognition is expanding for surveillance purposes in the UK today, whilst the EU is legislating to restrict its use.

Key report findings include:


  • Whilst the technology’s accuracy is improving, it remains that 89 per cent of live facial recognition matches on deployments by the Met and South Wales Police have been wrong since they introduced the technology.
  • Trials of mobile phone-based facial recognition in South Wales saw people of colour being four times as likely to be subject to a biometric scan than their white peers.
  • Victims, suspects, people thought to pose a risk of harm to themselves, and associates of any of those people, can be placed on police watchlists – meaning that a huge section of the public could be at risk from being added to facial recognition watchlists.
  • 11 years after the High Court ruled that holding mugshots of innocent people was unlawful, no police force has made serious progress in deleting these photos – but millions more images have been added to databases, which amounts to 2.5 a minute.

  • Private Sector

  • PimEyes, the online search engine for faces, can be used by any internet user to search anyone’s photos – including children – without their consent, using facial recognition technology
  • Cyberstalkers in internet forums request searches on PimEyes for explicit images of women they know, while women caught on video in the street have had naked photos tracked down on the facial recognition platform.
  • Facewatch has created a privatised facial recognition network for retailers across the country, running secretive blacklists of people who may not have ever committed a crime.
  • The report also uncovers how several schools have rolled out facial recognition-powered cashless canteens, with some even charging children for a swipecard if they do not consent to biometric scans.

    Five police forces have spent large sums on retrospective facial recognition tools, which identify people in photos or videos, while the Home Office has allocated £50 million for a centralised facial matching platform that will bring together law enforcement and immigration databases on one system.

    Since Face Off was published in 2018, an independent report from the Human Rights Centre at the University of Essex, commissioned by the Metropolitan Police and published in July 2019, found that the force’s use of LFR was highly inaccurate and likely to breach individuals’ human rights. In August 2020, Dr Ed Bridges’ legal challenge to live facial recognition led the Court of Appeal to find that South Wales Police had used the technology unlawfully. In April this year, a police-funded study found that at most settings tested the facial recognition algorithm used by police contains significant racial biases.

    Parliament is yet to pass any law banning or regulating the use of live facial recognition, despite widespread concerns about the technology’s accuracy, biases and impact on the right to privacy.

    Commenting, Director of Big Brother Watch, Silkie Carlo said:

    “Our report exposes the shocking scale of facial recognition, from Britain’s high streets to online facial recognition search engines, and a surveillance society that is growing out of control.

    “The UK has fallen completely out of step with the rest of Europe and the democratic world by opening the floodgates to facial recognition cameras, which are scanning the faces of millions of people across the country. This Orwellian surveillance tech treats innocent members of the public like suspects in a police line-up.

    “Police forces, and even supermarkets and clothes shops, are now using ever more intrusive facial recognition technologies that often wrongly flag people as criminals, disproportionately misidentifying black people.

    “Britain is at great risk of following in the footsteps of China and Russia’s high-tech surveillance states, with no democratic mandate. The Government should urgently stop live facial recognition surveillance whilst Parliament has a careful review of the regulations needed for the UK to adopt biometric technologies more safely and responsibly.”


    Biometric Britain is a comprehensive look at the state of facial recognition in our society today, underlining the risks to our rights and freedoms that technology comes with. You can find a copy of the report here.

    Our petition demanding a ban on live facial recognition can be found here.

    Big Brother Watch will mark the launch of Biometric Britain with an event in Parliament at 6pm on Tuesday 23 May. If you would like to attend, please email

    Spokespeople are available for interviews. Contact Big Brother Watch’s 24h media line on 07730439257 or email