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Legal challenge launched over "dangerously authoritarian" facial recognition cameras

Legal action has been launched on behalf of Big Brother Watch over the use by the Metropolitan Police of real-time facial recognition cameras

CCTV camera in the city

14 June 2018

Big Brother Watch has joined with parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Jones to urge Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to stop the police's use of what they deem “dangerously authoritarian” surveillance technology. 
 
Big Brother Watch claim that the Metropolitan Police has targeted Notting Hill Carnival twice as well as Remembrance Sunday with the surveillance cameras, which they describe as a “lawless growth of Orwellian surveillance”. 
 
According to the legal action, the Metropolitan Police have been deploying facial recognition technology with secret watch lists containing not only people wanted for arrest but protesters, football fans and innocent people with mental health problems. 
 
Big Brother Watch recently took the results of its Freedom of Information campaign to Parliament, revealing that the Met’s facial recognition “matches” had wrongly identified innocent people 98% of the time. 
 
This led to biometric photos of over 100 innocent people being stored on police databases, without their knowledge.
 
Despite attracting public controversy and a national campaign, the Metropolitan Police has vowed to increase its use of automated facial recognition with seven deployments planned for the next five months.
 
Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones claim that police lack a legal basis to use the technology and that it breaches fundamental human rights protecting privacy and freedom of expression. 

Baroness Jones has raised fears that even she could end up on a facial recognition watch list when conducting her parliamentary and political duties. 
 
A photo of her was infamously held on the Met's "domestic extremism" watch list and her political activities monitored while she sat on an official committee scrutinising the Met and stood to be London's mayor. 
 
Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones have vowed to take the police force to court with public support raised on the crowdfunding site Crowdjustice if the Met continues to use the surveillance tool.
 
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:
 
“The lawless growth of this Orwellian surveillance technology must be stopped. Facial recognition cameras are dangerously authoritarian, hopelessly inaccurate, and risk turning members of the public into walking ID cards. 
 
The UK already has the most extensive CCTV of any democracy in the West. The prospect of facial recognition turning those CCTV cameras into identity checkpoints like China is utterly terrifying. The police’s use of facial recognition will make the UK a less free place to live and Big Brother Watch will fight every step of the way to stop it.” 
 
Baroness Jones said:
 
“I’m extremely concerned about the impact that the Met police’s use of automated facial recognition will have on my ability to carry out my democratic functions. 
 
“As part of my parliamentary work I attend public events and demonstrations, meeting whistleblowers and campaigners who may not be able to meet me if police surveil events with facial recognition.  In fact, anyone could be monitored, identified and tracked by the police using real-time facial recognition cameras.
 
“Police use of this technology has no legal basis, and infringes people’s rights and civil liberties. That’s why I’m challenging the Met to end its use, now.”
 
Anna Dews from the human rights team at law firm Leigh Day who is representing Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones, said:
 
“Our clients believe that the police use of this AFR technology violates articles 8, 10 and 11 of the European Convention of Human Rights. They have written to the Commissioner and the Home Secretary seeking immediate action. Absent a satisfactory response, they may have no option but to seek the court’s intervention in this matter. 
 
“The lack of a statutory regime or code of practice regulating this technology, the uncertainty as to when and where automated facial recognition can be used, the absence of public information and rights of review, and the use of custody images unlawfully held, all indicate that the use of automated facial recognition, and the retention of data as a result, is unlawful and must be stopped as a matter of priority.“ 

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