Facial recognition has long been feared as a feature of a future authoritarian society, with its potential to turn CCTV cameras into identity checkpoints, creating a world where citizens are intensively watched and tracked. However, facial recognition is now a reality in the UK – despite the lack of any legal basis or parliamentary scrutiny, and despite the significant concerns raised by rights and race equality groups. This new technology poses an unprecedented threat to citizens’ privacy and civil liberties, and could fundamentally undermine the rights we enjoy in public spaces. Police forces in the UK have rolled out automatic facial recognition at a pace unlike any other democratic nation in the world. Leicestershire Police, South Wales Police and the Metropolitan Police have deployed this technology at shopping centres, festivals, sports events, concerts, community events – and even a peaceful demonstration. One police force even used the surveillance tool to keep innocent people with mental health issues away from a public event.
In this report, we explain how facial recognition technology works, how it is being used by police in the UK, and how it risks reshaping our rights. We are seeking to raise awareness of this growing issue with parliamentarians and inform the wider public about what is happening behind the cameras.
In this report, we:
• Reveal new statistics following a series of freedom of information requests, exposing the shocking inaccuracy and likely unlawful practices within a number of police forces using automated facial recognition;
• Analyse the legal and human rights implications of the police’s use of facial recognition in the UK;
• Review the evidence that facial recognition algorithms often disproportionately misidentify minority ethnic groups and women;
• Present guest contributions from allies worldwide warning about the impact of facial recognition on rights, including contributions from representatives of American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Georgetown Privacy Centre, and the Race Equality Foundation;
We conclude by launching our campaign against the lawless growth of facial recognition in the UK, supported by rights groups, race equality groups, technologists, lawyers and parliamentarians.The report's key findings :
• The overwhelming majority of the police’s ‘matches’ using automated facial recognition to date have been inaccurate. On average, a staggering 95% of ‘matches’ wrongly identified innocent people.
• Police forces have stored photos of all people incorrectly matched by automated facial recognition systems, leading to the storage of biometric photos of thousands of innocent people.
• The Metropolitan Police has the worst record, with less than 2% accuracy of its automated facial recognition ‘matches’ and over 98% of matches wrongly identifying innocent members of the public. The force has only correctly identified 2 people using the technology – neither of which was a wanted criminal. One of those people matched was incorrectly on the watch list; the other was on a mental health-related watch list. However, 102 innocent members of the public were incorrectly identified by automated facial recognition.
• The force has made no arrests using automated facial recognition.
South Wales Police
• South Wales Police’s record is hardly better, with only 9% accuracy of its matches whilst 91% of matches wrongly captured innocent people.
• 0.005% of ‘matches’ led to arrests, numbering 15 in total.
• However, at least twice as many innocent people have been significantly affected, with police staging interventions with 31 innocent members of the public incorrectly identified by the system who were then asked to prove their identity and thus their innocence.
• The force has stored biometric photos of all 2,451 innocent people wrongly identified by the system for 12 months in a policy that is likely to be unlawful.
• Despite this, South Wales Police has used automated facial recognition at 18 public places in the past 11 months – including at a peaceful demonstration outside an arms fair.
• Out of the 35 police forces that responded to our Freedom of Information request, not one was able to tell us how many photos they hold of innocent people in their custody image database.