Big Brother Watch takes UK police to court over use of public facial recognition as trials continue

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Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch has filed a legal challenge to the use of automatic facial recognition by UK police, alleging that it breaches the Human Rights Act, and that the Home Office has failed to properly regulate its use, the BBC reports.

Meanwhile, London’s Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) has announced the continuation of its trial of the technology at a location in Stratford, with the intention of reducing crime, and particularly violence, in the area.

“The Met is currently developing the use of live facial recognition technology and we have committed to ten trials during the coming months. At the end of the year, there will be a full, independent evaluation,” said Detective Superintendent Bernie Galopin of the MPS.

“The deployment of these cameras and targeting of individuals will be intelligence-led and temporary. Only images that come up as a match to a targeted individual will be retained for a limited period. The use of live facial recognition technology aims to support standard policing activity to ensure everyone’s safety.”

The decision to deploy the system again comes on the heels of a call by the London Policing Ethics Panel for the MPS to publish an opinion to clarify the legal basis of for the technology’s use before any further uses.

MPS research showed that 102 out of 104 identifications made by the system in early trial were false positives, while South Wales Police have admitted that facial recognition used at a Champion’s League match in Cardiff accurately matched 8 percent out of 2,470 supposed identifications. No arrests were made in either case.

South Wales Police also used the technology at a demonstration outside an “arms fair,” with similar accuracy of results, but police asked 31 incorrectly identified people to provide identification.

A Cardiff resident filed the first legal challenge against the use of facial recognition by UK police last month. The technology is also being used in Humberside and Leicestershire.

“When the police use facial recognition surveillance they subject thousands of people in the area to highly sensitive identity checks without consent,” said Big Brother Watch Director Silkie Carlo. “We’re hoping the court will intervene, so the lawless use of facial recognition can be stopped. It is crucial our public freedoms are protected.”

The BBC reports that the MPS and other police forces will likely welcome the chance to defend the technology, and bolster its legal position.

The use of biometrics by UK aw enforcement has been fraught by controversy, largely stemming from the stunning heel-dragging of the Home Office on oversight. Home Office released its Biometrics Strategy years after it was due, and immediately drew criticism for avoiding tough decisions on oversight recommendations. The UK’s Information Commissioner warned in May that public use of facial recognition technology could force her to take legal action against Home Office and the National Police Chief’s Council.

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