Thursday 31 October 2019 4:58 pm

Watchdog calls for police restraint over use of ‘invasive’ facial recognition

The head of the UK’s data protection watchdog has called for the creation of legal guidance on the use of live facial recognition (LFR) and urged the police to exercise restraint in their use of the technology.

Video surveillance coupled with the use of facial scanning software should only be used when it is “strictly necessary for the law enforcement purpose” and there is “demonstrable benefit to the public,” according to guidance issued by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Read more: Court throws out privacy challenge to facial recognition technology in landmark ruling

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham has outlined the “high statutory threshold” that must be met before LFR can be used following increased scrutiny of the technology’s use in the UK.


It emerged earlier this year that facial recognition had been used on the 67-acre King’s Cross site. Property developer Argent initially defended the use of the cameras as “in the interest of public safety”, but said it had no plans to reintroduce the technology.

The ICO is investigating the use of facial recognition at King’s Cross.

In September, the High Court ruled that South Wales Police had not breached data protection laws when it used facial recognition software, in the first court case of its kind.

Denham said the judgement “should not be seen as a blanket authorisation for police forces to use LFR systems in all circumstances”, and said her office hopes to work with the Home Office and other agencies to create a new statutory code governing use of the technology.

Read more: King’s Cross ditches facial recognition technology after watchdog savaged plans

She added that LFR has the potential for “widespread invasiveness” and current rules covering its use “will not drive the ethical and legal approach that’s needed to truly manage the risk that [the] technology presents”.

Co-leader of the Green Party and London mayoral candidate Sian Berry called for discussions “not just about how to regulate” technologies such as LFR but about “whether they should be used at all, before they’re deployed against the public”.


Main image credit: Getty

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