Big Brother Watch begins “landmark legal challenge” to police use of facial recognition surveillance technology
Privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jenny Jones have issued proceedings in the High Court in a crowdfunded legal challenge to the Home Secretary and the Metropolitan Police Service’s use of what it describes as “Orwellian” facial recognition cameras.
Big Brother Watch has issued a claim in the High Court requesting permission to proceed with a judicial review of the Metropolitan Police Service’s use of facial recognition surveillance, joining forces with Parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Jones to bring the legal claim against the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, and the Metropolitan Police Service’s 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 on Remembrance Sunday last year. No arrests were made using the technology at Westfield, but police were seen rushing to Stop and Search an innocent young black man following a facial recognition miss-identification.
Big Brother Watch obtained police figures in May revealing that 98% of the Met’s facial recognition “matches” wrongly identified innocent people. An investigation revealed that, even when innocent people are wrongly “matched”, the police service stores biometric photos of individuals for up to a year without their knowledge.
How the technology operates
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 that 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 much public controversy, but despite threats of legal action, the force has vowed to increase its use of the technology this year. Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones claim that facial recognition surveillance “tramples over civil liberties”, breaches 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 the claim.
Constant police line-up
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Facial recognition CCTV subjects members of the public to a constant police line-up. When the police use facial recognition surveillance, they subject thousands of people in the area to highly sensitive identity checks without consent. Facial recognition cameras are not only authoritarian, they’re dangerously inaccurate. The use of this technology by the police risks taking us down a slippery slope towards an Orwellian society. It is the public’s support that has allowed us to bring this legal challenge. We’re hoping that the High Court will intervene such that the lawless use of facial recognition can be stopped. It’s absolutely crucial that our public freedoms are protected.”
Baroness Jones stated: “The police’s refusal to stop using automated facial recognition cameras leaves me with no choice but to bring this Human Rights challenge. This new form of surveillance lacks a legal basis, tramples over civil liberties and hasn’t been properly debated in Parliament. The idea that citizens should all become walking ID cards is really the antithesis to democratic freedom. Facial recognition surveillance is likely to impact on my political work, whether I’m trying to meet whistleblowers in the city or attending protests and meeting campaigners where it’s being used. In a democracy like ours, individuals should not be identified and tracked by the state in this way. The Home Office bears responsibility for allowing this lawless growth of police facial recognition. I very much hope the High Court will ensure that the current situation is brought to an end without further delay.”
Concerns raised by the ICO
Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day representing both claimants, observed: “Not only has the public raised concerns about the use of facial recognition cameras, 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 High Court showing that the use of facial recognition cameras by the Metropolitan Police Service is contrary to Articles 8, 10 and 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Curling concluded: “The Home Secretary Sajid Javid has failed to show that the use of this technology 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 the Home Office as to whether it’s suitable for use in the future.”