UN privacy rapporteur criticizes accuracy and proportionality of Wales police use of facial recognition

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Joseph Cannataci, UN special rapporteur on the right to privacy, has lauded progress by the UK government in creating oversight to protect privacy, but also criticized the use of facial recognition technology by south Wales police during a peaceful demonstration, the Guardian reports.

Cannataci spent two weeks in the UK investigating privacy rights, and issued a report in which he said civil rights groups had told him that facial recognition technology was violating privacy rights, and possibly discouraging people from exercising the fundamental right to free association. He recommended that strict privacy impact assessments be conducted by the government and police prior to pilots.

“In addition to the admitted lack of precision of the technology, I find it difficult to see how the deployment of a technology that would potentially allow the identification of each single participant in a peaceful demonstration could possibly pass the test of necessity and proportionality,” he wrote.

“The force has been very cognisant of concerns surrounding privacy and are confident that our approach is lawful and proportionate,” a South Wales police spokesperson said, adding that an official response would follow in due course.

South Wales police used facial recognition at a UEFA Champion’s League match in Cardiff in 2017, which caused controversy when it was revealed that more than 90 percent of matches were false positives.

Cannataci said draft legislation in 2015 was “worse than scary,” and that intelligence agencies had made significant strides in respecting privacy rights since then. He said the Investigatory Powers Commissioner’s Office (IPCO) represents a significant improvement in oversight, though he also pointed out the potential conflict caused by the same body being tasked with authorizing surveillance by intelligence agencies as well as overseeing them.

The UK’s Biometrics Commissioner responded to the release of the long-awaited Home Office biometrics strategy last week by calling for a more robust governance framework.

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