The UK Court of Appeal has unanimously reached a decision against a face-recognition system used by South Wales Police. The judgment, which called the use of automated face recognition (AFR) "unlawful", could have ramifications for the widespread use of such technology across the UK. But there is disagreement about exactly what the consequences will be. Ed Bridges, who initially launched a case after police cameras digitally analysed his face in the street, had appealed, with the support of personal rights campaign group Liberty, against the use of face recognition by police. The police force claimed in court that the technology was similar to the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in cities.
The UK's privacy regulator said it is studying the use of controversial facial recognition technology by property companies amid concerns that its use in CCTV systems at the King's Cross development in central London may not be legal. The Information Commissioner's Office warned businesses using the surveillance technology that they needed to demonstrate its use was "strictly necessary and proportionate" and had a clear basis in law. The data protection regulator added it was "currently looking at the use of facial recognition technology" by the private sector and warned it would "consider taking action where we find non-compliance with the law". On Monday, the owners of the King's Cross site confirmed that facial recognition software was used around the 67-acre, 50-building site "in the interest of public safety and to ensure that everyone who visits has the best possible experience". It is one of the first landowners or property companies in Britain to acknowledge deploying the software, described by a human rights pressure group as "authoritarian", partly because it captures images of people without their consent.
How would you feel being watched, tracked and identified by facial recognition cameras everywhere you go? Facial recognition cameras are now creeping onto the streets of Britain and the U.S., yet most people aren't even aware. As we walk around, our faces could be scanned and subjected to a digital police line up we don't even know about. There are over 6 million surveillance cameras in the U.K. – more per citizen than any other country in the world, except China. In the U.K., biometric photos are taken and stored of people whose faces match with criminals – even if the match is incorrect. As director of the U.K. civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, I have been investigating the U.K. police's "trials" of live facial recognition surveillance for several years.