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UK police employ facial recognition at Beyonce concert, despite mounting criticism


UK police employed facial recognition technology at a Beyonce concert in Cardiff, Wales, which is estimated to have attracted around 60,000 people.

The technology was not employed inside the Cardiff Principality Stadium itself, but rather in the surrounding city center on Queen Street.

The police force justified the use of the technology as supporting the “identification of persons wanted for priority offenses,” and to help arrest people “wanted on a warrant or unlawfully at large/recall to prison,” as well as to help safeguard children and vulnerable people.

The locations where facial recognition was used were clearly marked with signs.

The use of facial recognition at large events is common in the UK more widely. The recent coronation of King Charles saw 68,000 people have their biometric data scanned. 

The South Wales police have previously deployed facial recognition during a Wales V Italy rugby match in March 2022. As per the official documentation, 87,611 people were seen by the tech, with their biometric data cross-referenced against the data of 607 people, leading to three alerts, with two arrests.

Despite these major rollouts, facial recognition use by police forces is a topic that is seeing widespread scrutiny from both within and outside the government.

In the Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s annual report for 2021-2022, Professor Fraser Sampson found that: “Effective oversight of police surveillance and their retention and use of biometrics generally is an important part of the wider trust and confidence agenda.”

The commissioner also acknowledged that: “Biometric surveillance technologies can undoubtedly be intrusive to privacy and raise other human rights considerations,” but also acknowledged that there is “no question that they can also be powerful weapons.”

Outside of government, Big Brother Watch’s Legal and Policy Officer Madeleine Stone, a UK-based pro-privacy non-profit, said that: “Live facial recognition is not referenced in a single UK law, has never been debated in parliament, and is one of the most privacy-intrusive technologies ever used in British policing.

“This dystopian technology should not be anywhere near the Coronation.”

She added: “The Home Secretary should urgently ban police use of live facial recognition.”

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