Real-Time Surveillance Will Test the British Tolerance for Cameras

"… But now a new generation of cameras is beginning to be used. Like the one perched on the top of the Cardiff police van, these cameras feed into facial recognition software, enabling real-time identity checks — raising new concerns among public officials, civil society groups and citizens. Some members of Parliament have called for a moratorium on the use of facial recognition software. The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said there was “serious and widespread concern” about the technology. Britain’s top privacy regulator, Elizabeth Denham, is investigating its use by the police and private businesses.

And this month, in a case that has been closely watched because there is little legal precedent in the country on the use of facial recognition, a British High Court ruled against a man from Cardiff, the capital of Wales, who sued to end the use of facial recognition by the South Wales Police. The man, Ed Bridges, said the police had violated his privacy and human rights by scanning his face without consent on at least two occasions — once when he was shopping, and again when he attended a political rally. He has vowed to appeal the decision.

Silkie Carlo, the executive director of Big Brother Watch, a British privacy group calling for a ban on the technology’s use, said the murky way watch lists were created showed that police departments and private companies, not elected officials, were making public policy about the use of facial recognition.

“We’ve skipped some real fundamental steps in the debate,” Ms. Carlo said. “Policymakers have arrived so late in the discussion and don’t fully understand the implications and the big picture.”

Sandra Wachter, an associate professor at Oxford University who focuses on technology ethics, said that even if the technology could be proven to identify wanted people accurately, laws were needed to specify when the technology could be used, how watch lists were created and shared, and the length of time images could be stored.

“We still need rules around accountability,” she said, “which right now I don’t think we really do.”"

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