The last day of January 2019 was sunny, yet bitterly cold in Romford, east London. Shoppers scurrying from retailer to retailer wrapped themselves in winter coats, scarves and hats. The temperature never rose above three degrees Celsius. For police officers positioned next to an inconspicuous blue van, just metres from Romford's Overground station, one man stood out among the thin winter crowds. The man, wearing a beige jacket and blue cap, had pulled his jacket over his face as he moved in the direction of the police officers.
King's Cross Central's developers said they wanted facial-recognition software to spot people on the site who had previously committed an offence there. The detail has emerged in a letter one of its managers sent to the London mayor, on 14 August. Sadiq Khan had sought reassurance using facial recognition on the site was legal. Two days before, Argent indicated it was using it to "ensure public safety". On Monday, it said it had now scrapped work on new uses of the technology.
The UK's privacy watchdog has opened an investigation into the use of facial recognition cameras in a busy part of central London. The information commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, announced she would look into the technology being used in Granary Square, close to King's Cross station. Two days ago the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, wrote to the development's owner demanding to know whether the company believed its use of facial recognition software in its CCTV systems was legal. The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said it was "deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces" and was seeking detailed information about how it is used. "Scanning people's faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives in order to identify them is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all," Denham said.