Big Brother Watch launches legal challenge to “dangerously authoritarian” facial recognition cameras

Big Brother Watch has launched a landmark legal challenge to the Metropolitan Police Service’s use of real-time facial recognition cameras. The organisation has joined forces with Parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Jones to urge Home Secretary Sajid Javid and Cressida Dick, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Service, to stop the police’s use of what it describes as the “dangerously authoritarian” surveillance technology.

The Metropolitan Police Service has targeted the Notting Hill Carnival twice as well as Remembrance Sunday with the “China-style” surveillance cameras, which Big Brother Watch views as a “lawless growth of Orwellian surveillance”. According to the privacy and civil liberties-focused campaigning organisation, the police have been deploying facial recognition technology with secret Watch Lists containing not only individuals wanted for arrest, but also protesters, football fans and innocent people with mental health problems.

Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb

Baroness Jenny Jones of Moulsecoomb

Big Brother Watch recently took the results of its Freedom of Information campaign to Parliament, revealing that the Metropolitan Police Service’s facial recognition “matches” had wrongly identified innocent people 98% of the time. This led to biometric photographs of over 100 innocent individuals being stored on police service databases without their knowledge.

Despite attracting public controversy and a national campaign based on its stance on this matter, the Metropolitan Police Service has vowed to increase its use of automated facial recognition with no less than seven further deployments planned across the next five months.

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones claim that the police lack a legal basis to use the technology and that its use breaches fundamental Human Rights protecting both privacy and freedom of expression.

Facial recognition Watch List

For her part, 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 photograph of her was infamously held on the Metropolitan Police Service’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 force to court with public support raised on the crowdfunding site Crowdjustice if the Metropolitan Police Service continues to use the surveillance tool.

Silkie Carlo

Silkie Carlo

, explained“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 they have in China is utterly terrifying. The police’s use of facial recognition will make the UK a less free place in which to live and Big Brother Watch will fight every step of the way to stop it.”

Baroness Jones added: “I’m extremely concerned about the impact that the Metropolitan Police Service’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 the police choose to surveil events with facial recognition technology. In fact, anyone could be monitored, identified and tracked by the police service if the latter is 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 Metropolitan Police Service to end its use.”

European Convention on Human Rights

Anna Dews from the Human Rights team at law firm Leigh Day, who’s representing Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones, stated: “Our clients believe that the police’s use of this technology violates Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. They have written to the Metropolitan Police 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.”

Dews went on to state: “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.”

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.

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