back to article UK police's face recognition tech breaks human rights laws. Outlaw it, civil rights group urges Court of Appeal

Automated facial recognition (AFR) use by British police forces breaches human rights laws, according to lawyers for a man whose face was scanned by the creepycam tech in Cardiff. "Put simply, connected to a database with the right information, AFR could be used to identify very large numbers of people in a given place at a …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Thank goodness for face masks. Not putting that one back in the bag now :)

    1. Flak
      IT Angle

      Face Masks

      Four months ago, if you walked into a shop with a face mask on, people were in alarm thinking you were there to rob the joint.

      Today, people would be in alarm if you walked in without wearing one.

      How times have changed!

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Face Masks

        Likewise, farting loudly to mask the sound of a cough.

  2. steviebuk Silver badge

    Shame no one grabbed the YouTube record before they removed it.

  3. MrMerrymaker Silver badge

    Intrusive idea anyway

    My face is not for sale and remains my property

    Maybe I'm too attached to Meatspace. But facial recognition for the general public should have failed at the first stage, Ethics

    1. genghis_uk Silver badge

      Re: Intrusive idea anyway

      To the police Ethics is a county just east of London!

      Technology that removes the need for real police work - that's the way forward. Everyone is guilty of something

      1. Efer Brick

        Re: Intrusive idea anyway

        Where you get to from Litherpool streeth sthatiohn

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Intrusive idea anyway

        Nothing to Hide, Nothing to Fear. Let the Heiling Begin.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Intrusive idea anyway

      So I'm no longer allowed to recognise you in the street and shout "hullo Mr Merrymaker"?

  4. martinusher Silver badge

    What's a "Human Right"?

    The cynic in me regards the notion of "Human Rights" as being something that was invented back in Cold War time to differentiate "us" (the good guys) from "them" (the bad guys). Although many people take this sort of thing seriously in practice it requires a huge leap of faith about the relationship between the citizen and their government. Few countries have this as explicitly spelled out as the US where the Constitution is pretty explicit about what can and can't be done. This doesn't stop generations of lawyers in 'angels on head of pin mode' debating endlessly how to somehow prove that the interests of the state always trump those of the individual.

    In a country like the UK where rights have never really been spelled out its comparatively easy to set up databases on the population and collect lots of useful information. One that's really in your face is ANPR; it should be a gross violation of a citizen's right to be tracked wherever they go but once again the lawyers can justify this ("driving is a privilege, not a right") and all those purely administrative tickets given to people who are 'the registered keeper' of a vehicle because its too much hassle to identify a human are just put up with. (We'd love to have this level of ANPR in the US but its requiring a lot more ingenuity to implement because of the Bill of Rights -- this won't stop it happening, just slow things down a bit.) Suddenly we're to assume that all those cameras, all that tracking and so on is a gross violation of one's Human Rights just because there's facial recognition -- ANPR for humans -- performed on those images. Well, that train left the station decades ago when you assumed that it was OK for humans to track individuals and so allowed widespread monitoring of the population. AFR is a fact, and like ANPR, its something everyone is going to have to learn to live with (and like ANPR its going to get better -- remember that 20 years ago you had to have specially formatted license plates in the UK to allow machine recognition; now the damn things are able to read US plates, including the fancy custom ones).

    Ultimately its going to come down to who owns and uses that data. If the police service is a true service of the community then AFR could be a public good. If the police force acts like a force of occupation, "dominating the streets", then expect dystopia.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: What's a "Human Right"?

      UK Human Rights act:

      This is tied in with the European Court of Human Rights, which is unrelated to the EU, and we'll continue to be a member of after brexit:

      Howver, we do get additional rights from being members of the EU, that will be lost thanks to brexiters:

      EU human rights:

      Additionally, Boris Johnson is using brexit as a excuse to leave the ECHR, so we'll have nothing...

      Brexit... the gift that keeps on taking.

      1. Fading

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        Pretty sure the Bill of Rights 1689 will still apply (which reinforced the Petition of Right (1628) and the Habeas Corpus Act (1679) by codifying certain rights and liberties) .

        1. Peter2 Silver badge

          Re: What's a "Human Right"?

          It does.

          In fact, the American Bill of Rights largely copied the 1689 Bill of Rights.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: What's a "Human Right"?

          @Fading "Pretty sure the Bill of Rights 1689 will still apply "

          "that the subjects, which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition, and as allowed by law";

          Weapons for all! (But not Catholics, Jews , Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims.)

          1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: What's a "Human Right"?

            Is it actually written as "protestants" or is it "Protestants". The latter would be those adhering to a certain Christian sect, the former, anyone who is protesting. Yay! More legal shenanigans!

    2. Julz Silver badge

      Re: What's a "Human Right"?

      The USA didn't have Irish bombers driving transit vans around the country blowing stuff up. ANPR was a reaction to try track their movements. Oh, and it came in on all of the major road junctions quiet a bit before most where aware that the technology even existed.

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        No but they largely paid for them.

      2. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        >The USA didn't have Irish bombers driving transit vans around the country blowing stuff up

        Maybe not Irish bombers but we certainly have our share of bombers. Ireland had all sorts of technology such as an early experiment in tracking people in Belfast using a database of food and other purchases plus consumption of electricity and the like to see if anyone's staying in a household they don't usually stay in (this dates from the early 70s).

        Those of us who say "we have rights" and "they wouldn't do that" would be well advised to review what happened with the miners' strikes in the 1980s, including what we were told at the time, what many of us thought and what actually happened from the records released 30 years later.

    3. Sir Runcible Spoon

      Re: What's a "Human Right"?

      The difference between ANPR and AFR is that you can change your vehicle quite easily, not so easy to change your face.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        Sorry Sir Runcible, invalid argument.

        You are supposed to notify DVLA when you get a 'new' car, and that includes the registration. So although you have changed your vehicle, they should still be able to connect that car to you. Unless, of course, you fail to (truthfully) register the change of owner which is also an offence, I believe (good luck avoiding getting lifted for no road tax if you don't register it) And there's always the chance it's already been used in a crime - and the bad guys just sold it to you...

        But look on the bright side - if the Thin Blue Line accuse you of a crime in one place and AFR "catches" you elsewhere, it will help you. Of course, if you don't think having incontrovertible proof of your being somewhere other than where the crime happened might be useful, by all means carry on tilting at windmills. They have the tech, they will find a way to justify it.

        Would Johnny Cash, Gary Moore and Christopher Cross still have been sent down if AFR had proved they were knocking off their mistresses rather than knocking off the murder victims?

        1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

          Re: What's a "Human Right"?

          @AC: what you are using here is idea every cloud has a silver lining.* However, compared to the amount of cloud the silver lining is minimal and that is probably the case here.

          *Though we all know it isn't true - yesterday was horizon-to-horizon cloud, with no lining, let alone a silver one!

        2. Sir Runcible Spoon

          Re: What's a "Human Right"?

          So if I borrow my mates car (legally) I have to register it with DVLA? Don't be absurd.

          The objection is about real-time tracking using a metric which cannot (reasonably) be changed.

          1. Inventor of the Marmite Laser

            Re: What's a "Human Right"?

            Your mate gets an S172, which requires him to identify the driver on xx/xx/xx at yy:yy, Its a big fine, 6 points and years of expensive insurance not to oblige.

            1. Sir Runcible Spoon

              Re: What's a "Human Right"?

              That's fine, I'm not talking about the Police not being able to work out where I was if they are investigating a crime, but that's a world away from live facial recognition.

              How can you not see that?

        3. Barrie Shepherd

          Re: What's a "Human Right"?

          " if the Thin Blue Line accuse you of a crime in one place and AFR "catches" you elsewhere, it will help you. "

          The problem with that argument is that 'you' don't have access to the ANPR and 'the thin blue line' will not go trawling through ANPR datasets because it may prove their suspicions wrong, and they may have to declare it to the defense.

          Even if the ANPR data showed your car to be somewhere else the prosecution will claim that is no proof 'you' were in it (that logic only works in reverse when 'you' are considered the driver for all ANPR detected offences unless 'you' can prove otherwise.

    4. Stephen Wilkinson

      Re: What's a "Human Right"?

      If it's good enough to read hard to read number plates these days, can we start putting smaller plates on the back of motorcycles again rather than the bloody great thing we currently have to use?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        Its meant to be an air brake since the disk ones seem to have failed on most bikes.

      2. genghis_uk Silver badge

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        Oops officer, I appear to have left my show plate on after that.. er, thing, at the weekend ;)

        I will go home and change it right away!

      3. MarkTriumphant

        Re: What's a "Human Right"?

        I think they are supposed to be human-readable, too.

  5. Adelio Silver badge

    It's not just about scanning all the faces in a location, that is bad enough, but I presume that the policate retail details of ALL the people scanned, irrespective of if there wasa match!

    1. Snapper

      "It's not just about scanning all the faces in a location, that is bad enough, but I presume that the policate retail details of ALL the people scanned, irrespective of if there was a march!"

      There, fixed it for you.

  6. Peter2 Silver badge

    What is a human right? Interesting question really, isn't it?

    Large scale protests these days appear to always get infiltrated by extremist provocateurs who use that event as cover for throwing bricks, petrol bombs etc at the police until they can't ignore it anymore and have to start getting heavy handed. At this point the provocateurs leg it through the crowd so that the (uninvolved) crowd takes the receiving effect of the heavy handed efforts, while the offenders then rinse and repeat at another location.

    Hypothetically, if the police wanted to stop and search provocateurs on sight to enable what would otherwise be a peaceful protest to proceed, who's civil rights take precedence?

    1) The people with a right to peaceful protest who don't want people trying to get people who are peacefully taking part in a protest march endangered by provocateurs, or;

    2) The provocateurs right to turn otherwise peaceful protests into riots?

    The objections to the technology are mostly that it doesn't work, and if it did work shouldn't be used to identify who is actually at a protest.

    If the rights were balanced by allowing the police to scan for their normal rouges gallery and nick them to keep peaceful protests peaceful, but didn't attempt to identify people and didn't retain the footage, I can't see too many objections personally.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      If the rights were balanced by allowing the police to scan for their normal rouges gallery and nick them to keep peaceful protests peaceful, but didn't attempt to identify people and didn't retain the footage, I can't see too many objections personally.

      And there, in one sentence, I think you sup up the issue.

      Like most people, I accept that the police need to have certain powers, and sometimes those powers might inconvenience me what going about my business as a law abiding citizen. However, I expect those powers to be of a scale appropriate to the task, and used in the most limited way possible.

      If we had, using old-school tech, checkpoints at all entries to [somethings], and police there with "papieren bitte" making lists of all who attended - and known to be keeping those lists, and cross referencing them with all other information they hold, "forever" - then people would be "not very happy with it".

      But here we are, the police have this new tech and it appears are operating on the "we can do it, therefore we should do it" - thus keeping those lists, with much lower accuracy and hence opportunity for innocent people to be categorised as offenders, in a much less overt way.

      There is an argument in favour of AFR - but only if the checks and balances and restrictions are in place. The very first limitation should be that the lists of people should not be allowed to be kept. The second should be that any positive matches thrown up by the system must be reviewed by a person and all rejected records deleted.

      But at present, there is effectively no oversight, no rules, no limits on what the (by all accounts, very inaccurate) information may be used for and how long it may be kept. Thus the means for long term mass tracking AND PROFILING of large numbers of the population without their knowledge or consent. As mentioned above, it's not that dissimilar to the police having found a way to covertly take fingerprints of everyone passing a checkpoint - and collecting that information with no oversight or rules. The only mitigating factor at the moment is that the information is of limited use to them due to the carp accuracy of the system - so far.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Thing is, the "agent provocateurs" are likely to be from the rozzers. Specifically the Special Demonstration Squad, who were busy getting the people they were spying on pregnant, as well as encouraging illegal acts, such as breaking into a fur farm and releasing all the mink*.

      *fur farms are awful, but mink are an atrocious invasive species.

  7. Mike 137 Silver badge

    Scary precedent?

    "The hearing began as a YouTube livestream ..."

    Quite apart from the issues of reliability and maintenance of the public record,. using "social media" to conduct court proceedings seems just a little inappropriate, given the attitude to both user rights and truth of most social media providers.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "...civil judges hearing from Liberty, South Wales Police, the Home Office, the Information Commissioner’s Office, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner and the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales."

    Hardly a fair fight really....

  9. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Magna Carta*, and Black Lives Matter

    In the UK the first 'rights' were reputedly enshrined in the Magna Carta, which the barons made King John sign while Richard was away fighting in the crusades. The idea of 'human' rights is basically the rest of society being obliged to treat everyone else in a particular way (not going around stealing from, killing or harming them). The tories are supposed to what to replace the Human Rights Act with a 'Bill of Rights', but in the USA, where rights are guaranteed by the constitution, as I understand it, they only actually apply to citizens, and the USA legal system does not have a concept of specifically 'Human Rights' (USA-folk please correct me if I'm wrong).

    There are many problems with Automatic Facial Recognition systems, not the least being that they are rubbish with non-whites (and poor with white faces too). I wonder whether the judges will consider that AFR systems promote racist actions in that they have difficulty discriminating between black faces and so would be likely to make false arrests of black people more likely.

    *(Did she die in vain?)

  10. Eclectic Man Silver badge

    Facial something white biassed

    There is an article on an obscure website (something to do with birds, I think) that claims a computer system for generating a recognisable face from a low resolution image is white biassed:

    Basically it was programmed with an overwhelming majority of white faces, so tends to produce a white result.

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