UK politicians speak out over police’s use of facial recognition technology

October 8, 2023

Facial recognition AI

Members of both the UK’s House of Lords and Commons are urging for a temporary halt on the deployment of live facial recognition technology by the police. 

This arose after policing minister Chris Philip hinted at granting police forces access to 45 million images from the passport database for police facial recognition. The Home Office indicated its ongoing collaboration with the police over such initiatives. 

65 parliamentarians and 31 rights and race equality organizations now oppose the use of facial recognition technologies in policing, according to advocacy group Big Brother Watch

Big Brother Watch stated that 89% of UK police facial recognition alerts fail in their purpose, with disproportionately worse results for ethnic minority groups and women

As Michael Birtwistle, from Ada Lovelace Institute, described, “The accuracy and scientific basis of facial recognition technologies is highly contested, and their legality is uncertain.”

Facial recognition is used extensively by US police forces but has resulted in the wrongful arrest of at least four black men.

Nijeer Parks’ was falsely accused of shoplifting and road offenses via an incorrect facial recognition match despite being 30 miles away from the alleged incidents. He spent ten days in jail and had to pay thousands in legal fees.

Police authorities in the UK have defended the technology, stating that live facial recognition software assists them in identifying high-risk individuals.

While the proposed EU AI Act seeks to restrict the police’s use of facial recognition in public spaces due to risks such as false identifications and bias, no such prohibition is being contemplated in post-Brexit UK. 

Civil liberties advocates have lambasted the idea as “Orwellian, ” severely infringing British privacy standards. 

As Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo stated, “The UK’s reckless approach to face surveillance makes us a total outlier in the democratic world, especially against the backdrop of the EU’s proposed ban.”

Big Brother Watch further commented, “This dangerously authoritarian surveillance is a threat to our privacy and freedoms – it has no place on the streets of Britain.”

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Sam Jeans

Sam is a science and technology writer who has worked in various AI startups. When he’s not writing, he can be found reading medical journals or digging through boxes of vinyl records.


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