Warning over facial recognition ‘epidemic’ in the UK

Support us and go ad-free

Facial recognition technology has been used in shopping centres, museums and conference centres around the UK, an investigation has claimed.

Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch labelled use of the technology an “epidemic” and said its use on privately owned sites was “deeply disturbing”.

The group said the Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield had carried out trials of the technology last year, while the World Museum in Liverpool and Millennium Point conference centre in Birmingham were also named in its investigation as locations where scans had taken place.

On Thursday, the Information Commissioner’s Office announced it would launch its own investigation into the use of facial recognition cameras after it was revealed scanners were being used in the King’s Cross area of London.

The UK’s data and privacy watchdog said it was “deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces” and is seeking “detailed information” about how it is used.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he had written to the chief executive of the King’s Cross development to raise his concerns.

Big Brother Watch chief executive Silkie Carlo said increasing use of the technology was placing personal privacy at risk.

“There is an epidemic of facial recognition in the UK,” she said.

“The collusion between police and private companies in building these surveillance nets around popular spaces is deeply disturbing. Facial recognition is the perfect tool of oppression and the widespread use we’ve found indicates we’re facing a privacy emergency.

“We now know that many millions of innocent people will have had their faces scanned with this surveillance without knowing about it, whether by police or by private companies.”

The group’s investigation reported that the Meadowhall shopping centre carried out a trial last year and the site’s owner British Land also has sites in parts of London including Paddington, Broadgate, Canada Water and Ealing Broadway.

A British Land spokeswoman said: “We do not operate facial recognition at any of our assets.

“However, over a year ago we conducted a short trial at Meadowhall, in conjunction with the police, and all data was deleted immediately after the trial.”

Big Brother Watch claimed it found the World Museum in Liverpool had used facial recognition scanning on visitors to an exhibition on ancient China.

“The idea of a British museum secretly scanning the faces of children visiting an exhibition on the first emperor of China is chilling. There is a dark irony that this authoritarian surveillance tool is rarely seen outside of China,” Ms Carlo said.

“Facial recognition surveillance risks making privacy in Britain extinct.

“Parliament must follow in the footsteps of legislators in the US and urgently ban this authoritarian surveillance from public spaces.”

Big Brother Watch said it was told by National Museums Liverpool, which operates the World Museum, that it is “testing feasibility of using similar technology in the future”.

Last month, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said authorities should cease trials of facial recognition technology until a legal framework is established.

MPs said the lack of legislation calls into question the legal basis of the trials.

In a report on the Government’s approach to biometrics and forensics, the MPs referred to automatic facial recognition testing by the Metropolitan Police and South Wales Police, noting an evaluation of both trials by the Biometrics and Forensics Ethics Group raised questions about accuracy and bias.

Support us and go ad-free

We need your help to keep speaking the truth

Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.

Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.

We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.

In return, you get:

* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop

Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.

With your help we can continue:

* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do

We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?

The Canary Support us