Recognising Facial Recognition

The first legal challenge against the UK police’s public use of facial recognition CCTV cameras is underway in Cardiff today (Tuesday 21st May 2019).

Ed Bridges claims that his data protection rights were breached in December 2017 after he “popped out of the office to do a bit of Christmas shopping.” Speaking to the BBC, Bridge explained that on the main pedestrian shopping street in Cardiff there was a police van and that by the time he was close enough to see the words ‘automatic facial recognition’ on the van, his data had already been captured by it.

Introduced used publicly for the first time in March 2018, facial recognition is now used by police in the UK to scan crowds in public spaces and events to help bring any outstanding warrants for an arrest to justice. The technology works by scanning everything and biometrically mapping out the facial features of members of the public. A specific numerical code is then assigned to each person scanned and is then compared to images on the Police’s “watchlist” database to identify any person of interest.

“If there are hundreds of people walking the streets who should be in prison because there are outstanding warrants for their arrest or dangerous criminals bent on harming others in public places, the proper use of AFR has a vital policing role,” said Chris Phillips, former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office. “The police need guidance to ensure this vital anti-crime tool is used lawfully.”

In complete contrast, Megan Goulding, a lawyer from the civil liberties group Liberty which is supporting Mr. Bridges, believes that “It is just like taking people’s DNA or fingerprints, without their knowledge or their consent.”

The civic liberty group Liberty argues that there are no laws, policies or regulations in place to guide police on how to use the technology, leaving it up to the individual police forces to “make it up as they go along.” The civic group also say that even if there were regulations, facial recognition breaches human rights and should not be used, describing it as “dangerously intrusive and discriminatory technology that destroys our privacy rights and forces people to change their behavior.”

Despite cases for and against the use of this new security technology, the UK doesn’t seem to be in a rush to put a stop to facial recognition. In China, it’s reported that more than 176 million facial recognition cameras are in place and are targeting even minor offenses. Police have also reportedly started using glasses which are equipped with the technology.

What do you think about this public use of facial recognition? Let us know in a comment below.