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Brexit drama blocking public and political debate on facial recognition surveillance by UK police


Fans entering an upcoming Six Nations rugby championship match between Wales and Ireland will be scanned against a wanted list with facial recognition technology, and civil liberty campaigners say Brexit drama is preventing the public debate that the biometrics use would normally cause, POLITICO reports.

POLITICO compares the lack of headlines to the debate in public and parliament over the Investigatory Powers Act, also known as the “snooper’s charter,” three years ago. Since 2014, facial recognition has been mentioned just 59 times in parliament, according to the official record in Hansard. The EU Withdrawal Act alone, by comparison, took up 272 hours of parliamentary debate between July 2017 and June 2018.

“The [Home Office hasn’t] sought to consult parliament,” says Big Brother Watch Director Silkie Carlo. “They didn’t seek to consult human rights experts, wider civil society, NGOs, but rather steamed ahead and [have] plundered millions of pounds into what is clearly really a controversial new form of surveillance.”

Carlo says UK politicians have completely failed to engage with the issue. Big Brother Watch is currently fighting London’s Metropolitan Police over its use of facial recognition for public surveillance.

The rugby match deployment will be the 29th by South Wales Police. A Cardiff resident is currently challenging those deployments in court.

Police will be on hand to further investigate in the event of a match, hopefully a lot of them, given that there were 2,470 matches, 92 percent of them false positives, when facial recognition was used at a 2017 Champion’s League soccer match in South Wales. It was recently deployed for a rugby match between England and Wales in Cardiff, where it returned 12 matches out of 18,000 fans, with eight false positives, and three leading to arrests or “disposals.” UK Surveillance Camera Commissioner Tony Porter and the Information Commissioner’s Office have both registered concerns about the use of facial recognition by police, and the lax regulatory environment is occurring in.

In emails to POLITICO, Labour Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott called for regulation of facial recognition, in particular to guard against the risk of discrimination, while Liberal Democrat’s Home Affairs Spokesperson Ed Davey called for a halt to the trials until appropriate safeguards are in place.

Porter, Norman Lamb, who chairs parliament’s science and technology committee, and former Brexit Secretary David Davis all agreed that urgency to deal with facial recognition has been reduced by the focus on Brexit.

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