British government officials reportedly drew up a secret scheme to put pressure on privacy regulators to allow private businesses to be allowed to use facial recognition cameras in a supposed push to crack down on crime.
A report from The Observer revealed that in a backroom meeting on March 8th, policing minister Chris Philp and top Home Office officials met with the facial recognition camera manufacturer Facewatch to come up with a plan to lobby the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to allow high street shops, supermarkets, and other stores to be able to deploy facial recognition tech to deter shoplifting and other crimes.
The minutes of the meeting, which were provided to the sister paper of The Guardian, showed that Philp and Facewatch founder Simon Gordon talked about “retail crime and the benefits of privately owned facial recognition technology” and sought to make reduce privacy protections to allow shops to utilise the technology. Philp was also said to be considering “a speech to bring the benefits of FR [facial recognition] to the fore”.
Defending the utility of the dystopian tech, Gordon told the paper: “We provide each individual business with a service that will reduce crime in their stores and make their staff safer.
“Every store has 10 to 20 people who just constantly steal from that store. And the store knows who they are. They’ve been preventing theft for years – this isn’t a new thing. All this is doing is using new technology to stop it.
“One of our big retailers using it has a 25 per cent [crime] reduction compared to stores not using Facewatch,” he added.
However, others have raised concerns about the privacy implications of facial recognition cameras being installed en masse throughout the country.
The advocacy manager of the campaign group Big Brother Watch, Mark Johnson said: “The Home Office must urgently answer questions about this meeting, which appears to have led officials to lean on the ICO in order to favour a firm that sells highly invasive facial recognition technology.
“Government ministers should strive to protect human rights, not cosy up to private companies whose products pose serious threats to civil liberties in the UK.”
“The UK should seek to emulate the European artificial intelligence act, which would place a ban on the use of facial recognition for surveillance purposes in all public spaces,” Johnson added.
During the Chinese coronavirus crisis, facial recognition and other Orwellian systems, such as vaccine passports were imposed upon the public. The National Health Service’s own coronavirus app, which served as a defacto vaccine passport for international travel, used facial recognition as a means of verification. It was later revealed that some data collected, including facial scans, had been shared with police.
Schools across Britain also implemented facial recognition systems during the coronavirus, with some schools scanning the faces of children as a means of processing payments for school lunches rather than accepting cash.
There have also been questions raised over the efficacy of facial recognition systems, particularly for law enforcement, with a police trial operation last year finding that just one arrest was made after scanning 13,000 faces.