Computers

First UK legal challenge to question police use of facial recognition technology

First UK legal challenge to qu...
A facial recognition van deployed by South Wales Police in the United Kingdom
A facial recognition van deployed by South Wales Police in the United Kingdom
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A facial recognition van deployed by South Wales Police in the United Kingdom
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A facial recognition van deployed by South Wales Police in the United Kingdom
Ed Bridges, the Cardiff resident threatening to take the South Wales Police to court over its use of facial recognition technology
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Ed Bridges, the Cardiff resident threatening to take the South Wales Police to court over its use of facial recognition technology

Facial recognition technology is not coming … it's already here. 2018 is fast becoming the year that facial recognition technology finally hits the mainstream with a constant torrent of stories revealing the growing use of these systems by law enforcement agencies around the world. A resident of Cardiff in the UK is now questioning whether the technology violates privacy rights by suggesting that if the country's police forces do not cease using these systems he, and others, will commence high court legal actions.

Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, with the backing of Liberty, a UK-based human rights group, is directly targeting the use of automated facial recognition technology by South Wales Police over the past few years. Bridges claims he was unreasonably tracked by this technology on several occasions, most recently in March at a peaceful protest outside the Cardiff Arms Fair.

The police reportedly utilized the technology outside the main entrance of the event, potentially scanning Bridges and numerous others without their knowledge. Several UK police forces have been using the technology since 2015 and the police allege all images of passers-by are kept for only 31 days before being erased.

"The police have used this intrusive technology throughout Cardiff with no warning, no explanation of how it works and no opportunity for us to consent," says Bridges in his complaint. "They've used it on protesters and on shoppers. This sort of dystopian policing has no place in our city or any other."

Ed Bridges, the Cardiff resident threatening to take the South Wales Police to court over its use of facial recognition technology
Ed Bridges, the Cardiff resident threatening to take the South Wales Police to court over its use of facial recognition technology

The case raises four issues of objection in relation to law enforcement's use of facial recognition technology in public spaces. It claims it violates a person's right to privacy, interferes with freedom of expression, discriminates against minorities due to inaccuracies in the technology, and it breaches data protection laws.

Another potential legal action in the UK against law enforcement usage of facial recognition systems is coming from Big Brother Watch, a civil liberties group working in association with Green party peer, Jenny Jones. A solicitor representing Jones and Big Brother Watch sums up the concerns saying, "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."

The rising concern of facial recognition technologies is not limited to the United Kingdom. Back in May, it was revealed that a chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) obtained a series of emails revealing how Amazon was selling a facial recognition system to law enforcement agencies across the country.

Called Rekognition, the technology can reportedly track large volumes of faces in crowds in real time, identifying up to 100 different facial targets from a single image. The ACLU documents revealed how Amazon were actively working with several government agencies to deploy the technology.

Unsurprisingly, the public response to the ACLU documents was filled with outrage. Civil libertarians voiced questions over how the technology could be misused, while several Democratic representatives highlighted concerns regarding the inherent bias in the algorithms. All the issues fell back on the point that this technology was being rapidly deployed with no oversight or regulation.

While China may be racing ahead in incorporating facial recognition systems broadly across all sectors of its society, more democratic nations are rightly asking some important questions that are yet to be answered. Is the deployment of a mass facial recognition system in a public space an invasion of personal privacy?

After all, it could be argued that tracking a person's movements in public spaces is akin to the harvesting of metadata on a personal smart device. It has already been established that the gathering of metadata without a legal warrant is allowed. Would personalized facial recognition data captured in a public space be considered social metadata? And even more, what right do we have to this kind of privacy in a public space?

Notwithstanding the entirely valid questions over accuracy and racial bias in these facial recognition systems – a vitally important issue that fundamentally needs resolution before broad deployment of the technology is justifiable – these legal questions currently arising in both the UK and US do certainly act as a reminder that technology moves faster than government regulation. And while these systems will inevitably be deployed more and more in the future, it is vital that at the very least there is a transparent conversation occurring around what kind of oversight is necessary and at what point personal privacy is being breached.

Source: Liberty Human Rights

4 comments
Brian M
Of course the government/police argument is if you have nothing to hide....and its there to protect you. All true of course, but is it a price that we want to pay, constant surveillance and no privacy. Do you trust those now or in the future (they might not be as nice) who might misuse the information?
Koolski2
I believe this is an intrusion of privacy. That being said I think the overwhelming reason not to allow this without a warrant is the potential abuse that can occur via data mining. What if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time doing something perfectly innocent but it happens 3 times. I can see someone ending up in court defending themselves for bad timing and subsequently spending thousands of dollars trying to clear their name against an authority that has nearly limitless resources. No Thank You!
Expanded Viewpoint
There is already a VERY simple technology readily available to counter facial recognition programs. All that one has to do is take a cap with a bill on it, or a hat with a brim, and affix infra red emitting LEDs on the under side and power them with a battery pack under the dome of the cap or hat. The IR light reflecting off of the wearer's face will wash out in the CCD of the cameras. All that you will see is a whited out face with dark spots for the eyes and nostrils and mouth, if open. No mask is required or heavy make up or other removable devices like higher cheek bones or nose or chin cleft. I have seen photos taken with the IR light on and off. With it on, you couldn't make out a darn thing!! If there is a compound which is not harmful to live bodies, but which fluoresces in the eyes of the digital camera, that could be applied and do the same thing.
voluntaryist
The govt. will do whatever it wants and no amount of public uproar short of complete repudiation of the idea of rulers will stop them. Once the majority has forfeited their sovereignty to an elite, i.e., Congress, LEOs, and judges, there is no way to stop them. The executive branch lies to the legislative branch, under oath, on camera, about its illegal spying (Clapper) and nothing happens. The legislative branch bails out the richest segment (the banks) with public funds and "too big to fail" (also too big to be prosecuted for multiple felonies) is shoved up the rear of every taxpayer. SCOTUS makes obscene, irrational, unconstitutional rulings and the public has to live by them. So, you can accept this tyranny and shut up because you asked for it (voted to be ruled), or you can stop supporting the political paradigm based on violence, threats thereof, and fraud. If the latter, you will have to take responsibility for your life, self-govern and deal with others using a new political paradigm of voluntary interaction. That will require a respect for reason instead of brute force. Can you act like a mature adult and be civil or do you want to keep the same old barbaric political paradigm that has existed since the invention of politics?