At the behest of Privacy International, I have written to my MP, Layla Moran about the expansion in the deployment of face recognition technologies.
A recent survey of over 100 MPs, carried out by YouGov on behalf of Privacy International, indicates that 70% of MPs don’t know whether facial recognition technology (FRT) is being used in public spaces in their constituency. I would appreciate it if you could investigate how widespread the deployment of face recognition systems is in the Abingdon area, specifically but also in our wider Oxford West & Abingdon constituency.
The Home Office, on the orders of policing minister, Chris Philp, is making plans, in blatant breach of the UK GDPR, to use FRT on the UK passport photo database and immigration records to identify individuals. There are also reports of closed door meetings between Mr Philp and the FRT company, Facewatch. In the wake of those meetings, the minister has demanded increased the use of FRT across retail spaces and the Home Office issued a warning to the Information Commissioner’s Office that their investigation into Facewatch should produce a positive outcome, otherwise they would be getting a complaint from the minister.
Widespread and unchecked use of facial recognition tech, building on the infrastructure of mass surveillance that has grown exponentially in the 21st century, is creating a surveillance society where everyone is identified and tracked everywhere they go. This poses serious threats to our human rights; not only the right to privacy but our right to protest and freedom of expression. All this is taking place within a democratic vacuum. Successive UK governments, for the past three decades, rather than deploying legislative checks and balances against this mass surveillance, in the public interest, have, too often, encouraged and exploited these developments for their own short term political ends and to undermine fundamental rights.
Face recognition tech is not the route to more effective or enlightened policing. Palestinians have long suffered oppression facilitated by technologies of mass surveillance. The Palestinian territories are one of the most intensive spaces for the testing of military and surveillance technologies that are then exported all round the world. Yet that intensive surveillance did not prevent the mass killings by Hamas of 1200 Israeli citizens on 7 October. Nor did it stop the Netanyahu government from reacting brutally to those murders, indiscriminately and repeatedly bombing civilians while cutting off access to all basic necessities, killing and maiming thousands in the process.
Mass surveillance is never the answer, with or without FRT but when it comes to the deployment of face recognition technology, the public have a right to know if it is being used in their local area and in public spaces. So, I would really appreciate you and your staff making representations to obtain the following information:
1. Is FRT is being used in the Abingdon area and if so how, where, by whom, with what authority, when, for what purposes and for how long do they retain the images/video collected.
2. Ask the local retail consortium and/or the largest local retailers and event spaces if they are using FRT in this constituency;
3. Ask Thames Valley Police Chief Constable, Jason Hogg, about the local police force’s deployment of FRT, or upcoming plans of deployment, in our local public spaces.