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Civil liberties groups demand total ban on facial recognition technology

Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International join more than 30 organisations warning that the police, Home Office, and councils are misusing the intrusive technology

CIVIL liberties groups called for a total ban on facial recognition cameras today amid fears that the police, the Home Office, and councils are using the intrusive technology without proper oversight. 

More than 30 organisations, including Amnesty International, Liberty and Privacy International, published an open letter alleging that guidance had been given on how to deploy the technology despite a court ruling against intrusive filiming. 

It followed reports in the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the College of Policing had quietly published the guidelines last week, during Parliament’s summer recess. 

A spokesperson for the professional police body told the Morning Star that the allegations are incorrect, saying that the guidance – concerning live facial recognition technology (LFRT) in England and Wales — would only be published after a “process of liasing with key stakeholders.”

But campaign groups pointed to a Court of Appeal ruling in August 2020 that the use of facial recognition cameras by South Wales Police in a pilot scheme ahead of a nationwide rollout breached privacy rights and equalities law.

“In a democratic society, it is imperative that intrusive technologies are subject to effective scrutiny,” their letter said. 

“We are not aware of any intention to subject LFRT plans to parliamentary consideration, despite the intrusiveness of this technology, its highly controversial use, and the dangers associated with it.”

The groups called on MPs to ban the use of the technology by law enforcement agencies and private companies entirely, as it poses “significant and unmitigable risks to our society” and “represents a huge shift in the relationship between the individual and the state.

“The implications come not solely from privacy and data protection perspectives, but from the larger ethical question for a democratic society permitting and seemingly condoning the rollout of such intrusive technology.

“LFRT also raises significant problems for our human rights, such as freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.”

The groups also warned it may be used in a “broad range of public gatherings” such as sporting events, music concerts and protests, threatening protected rights.

“Further, deployments of this surveillance technology could mirror and exacerbate existing disproportionate policing practices towards minority communities,” the letter pointed out.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “This government is delivering on a manifesto commitment to empower the police to use new technologies, like facial recognition to help identify and find suspects, to protect the public.

"The independent College of Policing has been consulting extensively on national guidance to ensure a consistent approach is taken nationwide.”

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