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Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones begin landmark legal challenge to police use of facial recognition surveillance

Challenge to use of 'Orwellian' facial recognition cameras begins

Posted on 25 July 2018

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones have issued proceedings in the High Court, in a landmark legal challenge to the Home Secretary and Metropolitan Police’s use of “Orwellian” facial recognition cameras.

The civil liberties group launched the crowdfunded legal challenge yesterday by issuing a claim in the High Court, requesting permission to proceed with a judicial review of the Metropolitan Police’s use of facial recognition surveillance. 

Big Brother Watch has joined with parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Jones to bring the legal claim against the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Cressida Dick. 

The Met recently targeted Westfield shopping centre with the China-style surveillance cameras, following previous controversial deployments at Notting Hill Carnival and Remembrance Sunday last year. No arrests were made using the tech at Westfield, but police were witnessed rushing to stop and search an innocent young black man following a facial recognition misidentification. 

Big Brother Watch obtained police figures in May revealing that 98% of the Met’s facial recognition “matches” wrongly identified innocent people. Their investigation revealed that even when innocent people are wrongly “matched” the police store biometric photos of the individuals for up to a year without their knowledge.

Facial recognition works by scanning thousands of faces within view of a surveillance camera and checking them against a police “watch list” of photos in real time. Big Brother Watch understands these watch lists have included not only wanted suspects, but also political protestors, football fans, and innocent people with mental health problems who have no criminal history. 

The Met’s use of facial recognition cameras has attracted public controversy. But despite threats of legal action, the force has vowed to increase their use of the technology this year. 

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones claim that facial recognition surveillance “tramples over civil liberties”, breaches peoples’ rights to a private life and signals a “slippery slope towards an Orwellian society”. 

Members of the public have raised over £5,000 on the crowdfunding website CrowdJustice to enable Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones to begin their case. 

Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, representing both claimants said:

“Not only has the public raised concerns about the use of AFR but so too has the Information Commissioner and the Biometrics Commissioner. The latter has said that automated facial recognition is “very intrusive of personal freedom” and that the “lack of governance is leaving a worrying vacuum.” 

Our clients have provided compelling evidence to the court, showing that the use of AFR by the Metropolitan Police is contrary to Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Home Secretary has failed to show that the use of AFR is either proportionate or necessary in our democratic society. Our clients hope the issuing of proceedings will result in an immediate halt of its use by the police and reconsideration by both the police and Home Office as to whether it is suitable to use in the future.”   

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones have instructed Rosa Curling and Anna Dews of Leigh Day Solicitors, Stephen Cragg QC and Adam Straw of Doughty Street Chambers.

You can read Big Brother Watch’s report, Face Off: the lawless growth of facial recognition in UK policing can be found here: 

Big Brother Watch launched its campaign against the police’s use of automated facial recognition last month in parliament with 15 NGOs: Big Brother Watch, Article 19, defenddigitalme, Football Supporters Federation, Index on Censorship, Institute of Race Relations, Liberty, The Monitoring Group, Netpol, Open Rights Group, Police Action Lawyers Group, Race Equality Foundation, Race On The Agenda, Runnymede Trust, Tottenham Rights.