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From Covert to Overt: UK Government and Businesses Seek to Unleash Facial Recognition Technologies Across Urban Landscape

From Covert to Overt: UK Government and Businesses Seek to Unleash Facial Recognition Technologies Across Urban Landscape

The Home Office is encouraging police forces across the country to make use of live facial recognition technologies for routine law enforcement. Retailers are also embracing the technology to monitor their customers. 

It increasingly seems that the UK decoupled from the European Union, its rules and regulations, only for its government to take the country in a progressively more authoritarian direction. This is, of course, a generalised trend among ostensibly “liberal democracies” just about everywhere, including EU Member States, as they increasingly adopt the trappings and tactics of more authoritarian regimes, such as restricting free speech, cancelling people and weakening the rule of law. But the UK is most definitely at the leading edge of this trend. A case in point is the Home Office’s naked enthusiasm for biometric surveillance and control technologies.

This week, for example, The Guardian revealed that the Minister for Policing Chris Philip and other senior figures of the Home Office had held a closed-door meeting with Simon Gordon, the founder of Facewatch, a leading facial recognition retail security company, in March. The main outcome of the meeting was that the government would lobby the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) on the benefits of using live facial recognition (LFR) technologies in retail settings. LFR involves hooking up facial recognition cameras to databases containing photos of people. Images from the cameras can then be screened against those photos to see if they match.

The lobbying effort was apparently successful. Just weeks after reaching out to the ICO, the ICO sent a letter to Facewatch affirming that the company “has a legitimate purpose for using people’s information for the detection and prevention of crime” and that its services broadly comply with UK Data Protection laws, which the Sunak government and UK intelligence agencies are trying to gut. ..

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