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Civil liberties groups demand ban of use of facial recognition technology by police

Liberty, Privacy International and 29 other organisations have called for Parliament to ban the use of live facial recognition technology (LFRT) by the police and private companies.

In an open letter, the groups claimed that police bodies and the Home Office have failed to allow Parliament to properly consider LFRT legislation by pushing ahead with plans to roll out the surveillance tool.

The organisations encouraged MPs and peers to demand the opportunity to steer the debate on the use of facial recognition technology in policing.

The letter said that if Parliament was allowed to scrutinise plans to use the technology, it would become evident that the legislation attempting to regulate its use is "insufficient".

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In August 2020 the Court of Appeal ruled that the use of facial recognition technology by the South Wales Police Force (SWP) was unlawful in R (Bridges) v Chief Constable of South Wales Police & Ors.

Liberty, which assisted the claimant/appelllant, said that despite judges finding that the technology violated the public's rights and threatened liberties, Parliament had not debated the issue since the decision.

According to Liberty, police forces, including South Wales and London's Metropolitan Police, have said they still plan to use it.

A recent public consultation on the use of LFRT carried out by the College of Policing, an arm's length body of the Home Office that sets standards for key areas of policing, was criticised in the letter.

The consultation closed on 27 June 2021 and formed part of the process to develop the new Authorised Professional Practice (APP) on the use of LFRT by the police.

"Despite purporting to rectify the issues identified in the Court of Appeal's Judgment in R (Bridges) v Chief Constable of South Wales Police & Ors, the APP in fact falls foul of many of the issues that in Bridges led the Court to find the use of LFRT breached privacy rights, data protection laws, and equality laws," the letter said.

In the group's view, the APP also did not preclude the use of LFRT for intelligence gathering purposes, which the Court found gave too much discretion to the police.

Emmanuelle Andrews, Policy and Campaigns Officer at Liberty, said: "Whatever our background or beliefs, we all want to feel safe and be able to go about our lives freely. Facial recognition undermines these ideals.

"It is over a year since our case led the Court to agree that this technology violates our rights and threatens our liberties. The government can't dodge this issue and allow for this dystopian surveillance tool to quietly but fundamentally change the nature of policing and our public spaces.

"Facial recognition does not make people safer, it will entrench patterns of discrimination and sow division. It is impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design. The safest, and only, thing to do with facial recognition is to ban it."

Adam Carey

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