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Police face legal challenge over 'authoritarian' facial recognition technology

Amar Mehta
The Met Police say that no arrests have been made following investigations using facial recognition technology - PA

The Metropolitan Police is facing a legal challenge over its use of facial recognition technology to spot potential suspects in crowds. 

Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch on Thursday launched what it described as a landmark legal challenge, with the backing of Baroness Jenny Jones.

The facial recognition technology, which has been used for two years at Notting Hill Carnival, has wrongly identified people 98 percent of the time, leading to photos of over 100 people being stored on police databases without their knowledge, Big Brother Watch alleged.

They described the Met’s continued use of facial recognition software as “lawless growth of Orwellian surveillance.”

Baroness Jones said: “Police use of this technology has no legal basis, and infringes people’s rights and civil liberties and I’m extremely concerned about the impact this will have on my ability to carry out democratic functions.”

Police in China use facial recognition technology Credit: AFP

Big Brother Watch alleged that the Met lacks a legal basis for this technology and it breaches fundamental human rights. 

In a letter sent to the Home Office the civil liberties group also asked Home Secretary Sajid Javid to withdraw support for the technology or to demonstrate that facial recognition is being used legitimately in accordance to the European Convention of Human Rights.

In a separate letter sent to Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick the commissioner was asked to put an end to using the technology or to answer the questions around the use of the cameras.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said: The UK already has the most extensive CCTV of any democracy in the West. The prospect of facial recognition turning those cameras into identity checkpoints terrifying. The police’s use of facial recognition will make the UK a less free place to live and Big Brother Watch will fight every step of the way to stop it.”

The Met Police and Home Office did not comment when approached for a response.