‘A threat to our fundamental freedoms’ – MPs and peers voice opposition to live facial recognition

Large group of parliamentarians calls for all police forces and private companies to immediately stop using surveillance technology, which senior Conservative MP describes as a ‘threat to our civil liberties’

A group of 65 parliamentarians has joined forces to issue a call for all police forces and private companies to stop the use of live facial recognition – a technology which a senior Conservative MP claims has “no place in a free society”.

The cross-party collection of MPs and peers – which includes the likes of Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey and former Brexit secretary David Davis – were joined in the campaign by 31 charities, campaign groups, and community organisations including Big Brother Watch, Amnesty International, Liberty, and the Race Equality Foundation.

The group’s joint statement said that, while the signatories “hold differing views about live facial recognition surveillance… these views lead us to the same following conclusion: we call on UK police and private companies to immediately stop using live facial recognition for public surveillance”.

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Following the publication of the statement, one of its backers – veteran Tory MP Charles Walker – said that live facial recognition systems, which can scan people’s faces and compare them in real time to images on a watchlist, represents a “new form of AI surveillance technology [that] is very different from the CCTV we find scattered across our society in 2023”.

“This surveillance technology threatens to turn us into walking barcodes or, worse, walking ID cards,” he wrote, in a piece for PublicTechnology sister publication The House Live. “Basic principles should govern the use of surveillance in a free society like the UK. Surveillance should be limited and proportionate. It should be targeted and based on reasonable suspicion. Where surveillance is applied en masse to the general population, these practices start to pose threats to our fundamental freedoms.”

He added: “Live facial recognition is one such technology, used by police forces and increasingly private companies to monitor crowds of innocent people indiscriminately. It is entirely unacceptable that a societal shift towards this technology has come without any parliamentary approval or even a debate in either house.”

Sam Trendall

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