ICO probes King’s Cross facial recognition

Written by Sam Trendall on 16 August 2019 in News

Information commissioner Elizabeth Denham says her office is launching an investigation into use of technology on privately owned development

Credit: Héctor Ochoa/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Information Commissioner’s Office has launched an investigation into the use of live facial-recognition technology at the King’s Cross Central development in central London.

It was recently revealed in the press that the technology is in use at the 67-acre site, which is privately owned by a consortium headed by property developer Argent. The news has prompted privacy groups and politicians – including representatives of local authority Camden Council and London mayor Sadiq Khan – to call on Argent to provide more information on how the technology is being used and offer reassurances on the legality of doing so.

Their calls have now been amplified by information commissioner Elizabeth Denham, who has announced that her office has commenced an investigation into the matter. The probe will seek “detailed information from the relevant organisations about how the technology is used”. Officials will also conduct on-site inspections to ascertain whether or not kit has been deployed in a legally-compliant way.

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“Scanning people’s faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives, in order to identify them, is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all. That is especially the case if it is done without people’s knowledge or understanding,” Denham said. “I remain deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, not only by law enforcement agencies but also increasingly by the private sector. My office and the judiciary are both independently considering the legal issues and whether the current framework has kept pace with emerging technologies and people’s expectations about how their most sensitive personal data is used.”

She added: “Facial-recognition technology is a priority area for the ICO and when necessary, we will not hesitate to use our investigative and enforcement powers to protect people’s legal rights.”

The commissioner said that organisations wishing to use the technology must ensure they act in a “fair, transparent, and accountable” way. To remain compliant, they also need to maintain documentary evidence of why the use of facial recognition is “legal, proportionate and justified”.

She said: “We support keeping people safe but new technologies and new uses of sensitive personal data must always be balanced against people’s legal rights.”

A spokesperson for the King's Cross development said: “King’s Cross is working collaboratively with the Information Commissioner’s Office on the inquiry it has announced, and will comment further in due course.”


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Sam Trendall is editor of PublicTechnology

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