Earlier this month, San Francisco banned the use of facial recognition technology in police investigations, and now the UK is looking into the matter as a human rights group sues local police for fear that the country could be following in the footsteps of China, writes the BBC.
Human rights advocacy group
Liberty is taking the South Wales police to Cardiff Administrative Court following
the department’s efforts to deploy automated facial recognition technology to
create a database of biometrics to use in real time in police surveillance. Liberty
brought the court case in support of UK citizen Ed Bridges, who feels his
privacy was breached after having his image snatched twice.
The group is concerned law
enforcement gave too little information on how the data will be used, and
considers it an invasion of privacy, especially in the case of minorities that
can be misidentified. They give the example of the Champions League final in
Cardiff in 2017 where 92 percent of matches were inaccurate.
What’s more, Liberty claims the
procedure is similar to collecting fingerprints and DNA without consent. They
also argue that law enforcement did not explain where the watch list images
come from, claiming some are taken from social media.
“If you are a woman or from an ethnic minority and you
walk past the camera, you are more likely to be identified as someone on a
watch list, even if you are not,” said Megan Goulding, a lawyer from the civil
liberties group Liberty. “That means you are more likely to be stopped and
interrogated by the police. This is another tool by which social bias will be
entrenched and communities who are already over-policed simply get over-policed
The tool collects facial images and compares them to faces in public, crowded areas like streets and concerts to match with wanted suspects, but according to the South Wales police website, the software “can’t be used to identify persons unless they are in a watch list.”
“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,”
explained 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.”
Other police departments deploying automated facial
recognition are Metropolitan Police and Leicestershire Police. The South Wales
police did not comment on the case.