The mayor of London has written to the owner of the King's Cross development demanding to know whether the company believes its use of facial recognition software in its CCTV systems is legal. Sadiq Khan said he wanted to express his concern a day after the property company behind the 27-hectare (67-acre) central London site admitted it was using the technology "in the interests of public safety". In his letter, shared with the Guardian, the Labour mayor writes to Robert Evans, the chief executive of the King's Cross development, to "request more information about exactly how this technology is being used". Khan also asks for "reassurance that you have been liaising with government ministers and the Information Commissioner's Office to ensure its use is fully compliant with the law as it stands". The owner of King's Cross is one of the first property companies to acknowledge it is deploying facial recognition software, even though it has been criticised by human rights group Liberty as "a disturbing expansion of mass surveillance".
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.
Facial recognition technology will not be deployed at the King's Cross development in the future, following a backlash prompted by the site owner's admission last month that the software had been used in its CCTV systems. The developer behind the prestigious central London site said the surveillance software had been used between May 2016 and March 2018 in two cameras on a busy pedestrian street running through its heart. It said it had abandoned plans for a wider deployment across the 67-acre, 50-building site and had "no plans to reintroduce any form of facial recognition technology at the King's Cross Estate". The site became embroiled in the debate about the ethics of facial recognition three weeks ago after releasing a short statement saying its cameras "use a number of detection and tracking methods, including facial recognition". That made it one of the first landowners to acknowledge it was deploying the software, described by human rights groups as authoritarian, partly because it captures and analyses images of people without their consent.
The FBI maintains a huge database of more than 411m photos culled from sources including driver's licenses, passport applications and visa applications, which it cross-references with photos of criminal suspects using largely untested and questionably accurate facial recognition software. A study from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released on Wednesday for the first time revealed the extent of the program, which had been queried several years before through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The GAO, a watchdog office internal to the US federal government, found that the FBI did not appropriately disclose the database's impact on public privacy until it audited the bureau in May. The office recommended that the attorney general determine why the FBI did not obey the disclosure requirements, and that it conduct accuracy tests to determine whether the software is correctly cross-referencing driver's licenses and passport photos with images of criminal suspects. The Department of Justice "disagreed" with three of the GAO's six recommendations, according to the office, which affirmed their validity.
Data brokers already buy and sell detailed profiles that describe who you are. They track your public records and your online behavior to figure out your age, your gender, your relationship status, your exact location, how much money you make, which supermarket you shop at, and on and on and on. It's entirely reasonable to wonder how companies are collecting and using images of you, too. Facebook already uses facial recognition software to tag individual people in photos. Apple's new app, Clips, recognizes individuals in the videos you take.