back to article Brit police's use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us, cops' lawyer tells Court of Appeal

South Wales Police and the UK Home Office "fundamentally disagree" that automated facial recognition (AFR) software is as intrusive as collecting fingerprints or DNA, a barrister for the force told the Court of Appeal yesterday. Jason Beer QC, representing the South Wales Police (SWP) also blamed the Information Commissioner's …

  1. Greybearded old scrote
    Big Brother

    The Great Prophet

    M'andee-rice Davies. That is all.

  2. macjules Silver badge

    UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us

    UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us on this because we can not get it to work.

    There, FTFY

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us

      Lifting fingerprints or DNA at crime scene - proportional and related to an actual crime (keeping both for years from individuals ruled out during investigations is a different issue)

      Facial recognition can only be less intrusive and proportional if the system discards images that do not match individuals actually being sought by plod.

      While we don't have any right to privacy on the street, that doesn't extend into the right to build a dossier of Joe Publics movements and interactions, it's stalking.

      I don't care that my image may be on a 1,000 different security systems, I do object to anyone stitching together a timeline of my life from them.

      1. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us

        While we don't have any right to privacy on the street

        While I agree that you are broadly correct, there are limits to this.

        Lets take an ordinary sex pervert (me here after) and a hot as a thousands suns 23 year old blonde (Blonde here after and man do I hope I have the e no e thing the right way around). I walk past Blonde in the street and think "nice, I quite enjoy looking at her" and figure since I have an hour to kill, I'll follow her about looking at her, because she has no right to privacy in the street, right?

        Ok, so far so creepy, but lets expand this. Lets decide that I think Blonde is someone of interest to me (say as an extra curricular shag or whatever) but that Blonde doesn't actually know I've decided this. I then take to following Blonde about for a few hours a day, day after day, because, well, I can.

        Now we've gotten really rather creepy, but wait.... I'm not that kind of creepy, I'm worse. I decide that I really want to know more about Blonde so I start doing reverse google searches on photos I've now taken of her face, and I start trying to eaves drop her phone conversations and steal glances at her phone to try to put a name to the face. I then optimize my enjoyment of what I'm doing by following her instagram, twitter, facebook, etc etc because I like automating stuff and now I don't have to walk around. Maybe I automate extraction of exif data from the images and throw that at a map, just for fun. My fun, not Blondes.

        That right to privacy has to interrupt me somewhere down the line. Or it should. My behavior here isn't what we'd consider normal, right? The only thing Blonde did to attract all this surveillance, monitoring, and investigation was walk past me in the street looking nice.

        And yet, swapping out the sex pervert for a CCTV operator and you substantially have the same thing now. Throw that into a searchable database and its the same as me setting up a whatsapp group so my mates can also appreciate Blonde.

        I understand that the state is exempt from a lot of things for a lot of reasons, but we should all have some level of privacy on the high street, even if only after a sensible number of days has expired. I mean, had CCTV been ever present in my younger days, the searchable database would throw up some seriously dubious fashion choices on my part...

        Activity undertaken by the state should be understood at the public level. Every tourist in America is photographed and fingerprinted at the border - you accept it when you enter. In their defence, they're completely open about that and the data they retain, so why aren't our police?

        1. keith_w Bronze badge
          Pint

          Re: UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us

          An excellent tale in illustration of the point. Thanks and have a nice thumbs up and a beer, because I am sure you are thirsty after all that following.

      2. Michael Habel Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: UK police use of facial-recognition tech is lawful, no need to question us

        But, you seem so happy or, is that a Mobe in your pocket, with location tracking turned on?

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No more big brother.......please!

    Invention of the devil. Should be banned forthwith.

  4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "The Respondent employs AFR Locate at specific locations in the South Wales Police's area of responsibility. It could not lawfully or practically 'track the movements of individuals as they move around the country'."

    The practicality could be addressed by deploying at more locations. If they claim the present deployment is lawful how many more deployments would it require to become unlawful? If it's not possible to answer that then maybe its no lawful now.

    1. Circadian
      Big Brother

      How pervasive is cctv? How easy is it to connect the software? How much are they drooling...?

      1. Bernard M. Orwell
        Big Brother

        "How pervasive is cctv?"

        It is estimated that there is one CCTV camera per 11 persons per capita in the UK. On the average commute to work (in london) you will be recorded over 100 times.

        Source: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/10172298/One-surveillance-camera-for-every-11-people-in-Britain-says-CCTV-survey.html

        1. genghis_uk Bronze badge
          Big Brother

          Many years ago (early 2000's I think), there was a BBC program about how pervasive surveillance was getting. They followed a group of 20 somethings on a nigh out in Brighton.

          They were picked up on a CCTV camera at the end of their street, followed to the bus stop, filmed on the bus, more filming in the high street, the pubs they went to, the nightclub and then all the way home again.

          From 8pm through to 2am they were under constant scrutiny of one kind or another.

          Obviously, they were aware and the BBC were proving a point but 15years ago there were enough cameras to do this. Ok, it was Brighton so there may have been more cameras than usual then but I would say that every city and major town can do this now.

          Now add facial recognition into the mix (and assume it works as advertised) and you have a 1984 level of oversight. We know it does not work as advertised though and this, in some ways, makes it worse. Any time where you have to prove your innocence, the law is the wrong way round - guilty unless you can provide evidence to the contrary. If the computer spews out an incorrect match, you are guilty in the eyes of the police... now prove it was not you!

  5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "Liberty had not correctly understood how NEC Neoface worked"

    Does it need to understand how it works if it knows what it does?

  6. Falmari

    Keep a straight face.

    How could he keep a straight face when he said this "The [facial-recognition tech] is no more intrusive than the use of CCTV on the streets."

    If the tech actually worked, then the very nature of what it is meant to do makes it more intrusive. You have CCTV that can track everyone whose face it captures. How can that be anything but more intrusive?

    If (when) this gets fully deployed it will be so open to abuse. I can see it now some plod has a grudge against someone, partner playing away from home, feed their image into the system to track where they have been.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: Keep a straight face.

      It is obviously much more intrusive: CCTV does not (attempt to) identify people - it records images for use later if justified at THAT (later) time by reasons which are proportional, etc. For example, a crime has happened.

      AFR (attempts to) identify everyone it captures - then, based on that identification, may apply some selection or proportionality requirement.

      The act of trying to identify people is additional to the act of recording. The recording may be permitted under CCTV laws, but the additional act of identifying has nothing to do with the CCTV laws must require separate legal authorisation.

      1. David 164

        Re: Keep a straight face.

        I presume he meant cctv that is monitor live by human operators, who can then manually track the user across the area of cameras they have access to. In this way it no less intrusive than a live human operated camera feeds that are run by super markets and many other venues. Or indeed many of London own cctv cameras are now monitor live by human operators.

        1. EnviableOne Silver badge

          Re: Keep a straight face.

          the two are distinct.

          CCTV concentrates on the WHAT

          by adding AFR you move from the WHAT to the WHO

          if your doing nothing wrong, the what is not a problem

          once the WHO and WHat combine you have a privacy issue

    2. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: Keep a straight face.

      If the tech actually worked, then the very nature of what it is meant to do makes it more intrusive. You have CCTV that can track everyone whose face it captures. How can that be anything but more intrusive?

      It's not more intrusive, its simply more efficient. They already have a CCTV operator that can track your every move, what this does is automate and industrialize it.

      I can see it now some plod has a grudge against someone, partner playing away from home, feed their image into the system to track where they have been.

      There's easier databases to do that with already and properly serious consequences for abuse which is identified often enough to be a deterrent.

      1. genghis_uk Bronze badge

        Re: Keep a straight face.

        Read the post from Enviableone above yours... sums it up nicely.

        CCVT only watches people, groups or individuals.. anonymous people.

        If something happens they can send the police to deal with troublesome 'people'.

        AFR gives them all names!!

        =====================

  7. Adair Silver badge

    So now

    ...the whole English population is in an identity parade, on the off chance we might [possibly] match some template.

    On that basis why don't we just cut to the logical conclusion and give everybody a suspended sentence in advance of them being caught doing whatever it is that we do to offend 'the law'. After all there's no point in throwing everyone in jail, the sheeple need to work to earn the money that the priviledged few need to keep them in the manner to which they are forever wishing to become accostomed but which is forever just beyond their reach - someone else always has that little bit more than they do.

    The 'little people' - 'the law' will keep them from getting too uppity.

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: So now

      And what if you happen to look a bit like someone on the wanted list? It would be unreasonable and unfair that everyone who looks like someone on the list is stopped all the time even if that is a tiny minority. We must require there has to be some additional justification which would protect these unfortunate individuals from turning their honest and ordinary life into a dystopian nightmare (additional reasons might include, for example, a crime has happened nearby, or there is intelligence suggesting the particular criminal is in that area at that time).

      1. Adair Silver badge

        Re: So now

        How about: we just don't do it at all? Problem solved.

        Just because something can be done - murder for example - doesn't mean it should be done.

        Somehow human civilization has managed to stagger through the last five thousand years without the means to randomly check every passing face against a vast data base of 'persons of interest' and then to proceed to generate x number of false positives/negatives, ruin people's days/lives, hang on to data even though we said we would delete it, and generally act like 'God', but in a very 'human' - that is to say 'broken' - kind of way, and somehow claim that 'we are improving the quality of people's lives'. Utter bullshit.

        Two things: power and money.

        And a third thing: fuck 'quality of life'.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So now

          For some reason I fear you might be wrong and have glossed over the dark times of history, where groups of people would be lynched. American police arresting black people because a crime nearby was committed, witches, etc.

          1. Stork Silver badge

            Re: So now

            Innocent unless found Irish!

      2. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: So now

        "And what if you happen to look a bit like someone on the wanted list?"

        This wasn't even creepy cam. This was just black dude and his father on bikes who just happened to match the description of a recent nearby stabbing where the assaillants were described as...tada...two black guys on bikes.

        https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/28/black-teenager-on-family-cycle-ride-injured-during-aggressive-police-arrest

        Now imagine how well this is going to go when a machine is connected to various cameras, trying to identify everybody it sees, and periodically screams "WITCHES!". Especially when you consider that such systems are notoriously poor at distinguishing people who aren't white.

  8. terrythetech
    Unhappy

    Wedge

    thin end of.

    Worried about where the thick end is

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      Re: Wedge

      P.R.C.

    2. Adair Silver badge

      Re: Wedge

      'Thick end' = 'Boris'

    3. DoctorNine
      Coat

      Re: Wedge

      Begging the question of how many people join the police, just to be able to give the public wedgies?

      Things I ponder over a pint...

  9. autisticatheist
    Flame

    Intrusive

    Fingerprinting and DNA tests allow you to know who someone is.

    Facial recognition alows you to know who someone is.

    How the fuck is it any less intrusive?

    1. Graham Cobb

      Re: Intrusive

      In fact, it is clearly much more intrusive as fingerprints or DNA are mostly only left if you interact with some particular point - AFR identifies people walking down the street, interacting with nothing.

  10. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Stop

    This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

    It should not be decided by a judge as to whether the legal framework exists in which it can be used, but rather a citizen wide vote - and a non-vote counts against it. When 30 million or so people agree that this makes sense, then it might be considered...

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

      a citizen wide vote - and a non-vote counts against it

      One can't take the non-votes of people who "don't care", or are "happy to have what those who do vote choose", as votes against. That's no more sound than letting the other side have it the other way.

      We need credible and rational argument against AFR which goes beyond hoping to tilt things in our favour.

      Most people consider having more cops on the beat a good thing; keeping an eye out for ne'er-do-wells, imagine Robocops would be better at that, and see AFR as the easier, cheaper and practical option.

      That's what we are up against.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

        "One can't take the non-votes of people who "don't care", or are "happy to have what those who do vote choose", as votes against. That's no more sound than letting the other side have it the other way."

        A non-vote is a vote for the status quo. Simples :-)

        1. Bernard M. Orwell

          Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

          "A non-vote is a vote for the status quo."

          This may be widely down-voted, but in political tradition, and standing orders, when a vote is tied it is usually the duty of the chair to vote in order to maintain the status quo, which usually (but not always) involves voting against a motion that changes something..most motions in other words. This is known as "Egality".

        2. Barrie Shepherd

          Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

          "A non-vote is a vote for the status quo."

          That didn't work for BREXIT.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

      Hang on a moment, this isn't a democracy we live in.

    3. David 164

      Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

      You would lose any such vote. No under the stupid rules you put in place but under rules that would be written by the electoral commission and where someone who isn't making a vote is presume to vote no, I might not turn up to vote but I have no problem with the technology.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

        Making voting mandatory isn't a "stupid rule".

        Not voting isn't an endorsement of the status quo (despite what we're brainwashed into believing), it's just not giving a flying f**k about the outcome.

    4. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

      "but rather a citizen wide vote"

      Yeah, because democracy by referendum works so well...

    5. LucreLout Silver badge

      Re: This is legislation which affects everyone, immediately and continuously

      It should not be decided by a judge as to whether the legal framework exists in which it can be used, but rather a citizen wide vote - and a non-vote counts against it

      Sorry, but that's a naked attempt to queer the pitch and you know it. You're trying to assign the votes of those that don't care enough to vote tot he outcome you desire. Conventionally non-voters are considered to have sided with the majority, not some pre-ordained outcome you're trying to get.

      I think we both know the winning side in any straight count will be for CCTV and monitoring, because people are scared, they're ignorant, and they assume there's no downside for themselves. Kids these days want to be watched, by anyone and preferably everyone. We'd get outvoted in a second because the young not only don't care about their privacy, but they actively want the opposite.

  11. osakajin Bronze badge

    This will suck

    For identical twins

    1. DJO Silver badge

      Re: This will suck

      Or for almost any innocent PoC who happens to be close.

      https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2020/jun/28/black-teenager-on-family-cycle-ride-injured-during-aggressive-police-arrest

  12. Mark192 Bronze badge

    Please let me know if I've got this wrong.

    It doesn't try to identify everyone, it checks everyone to see if they are on the list of naughty people.

    I see three things happening:

    - Cameras set up all over the place like ANPR cameras are (11,000 ANPR cameras in the UK?)

    - Police scrambling to fill databases with as many people's face data as possible unless legislation comes in to restrict it (to criminals, people charged, people arrested, political activists?)

    - Law to enforce carrying of ID as the 'obvious' solution to the arresting of innocent people with no ID on them because the 'computer said yes and he looks like the picture'.

    Fortunately with my big nose and eyes-so-close-together-I-have-to-use-binoculars-as-a-monocular I'm unlikely to be a match with anyone.

    You, my friend, may not be so lucky. Dress nice, speak posh and hope your doppelgänger is wanted for street crime not something middle class like tax evasion.

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Don't be so sure. I'm passing ugly (not enough to scare a troll into fits, but enough to scare small children and animals if the light is right), but I've seen two people close enough to make even me look twice. One was the clergyman conducting my nephew's christening, and the other was a bloke on the alumni version of "University Challenge".

    2. hoola Bronze badge

      Big Brother is watching

      It is always far more difficult to undo something than put a sensible framework in place first. The fact it facial recognition does not work now is a complete red herring. There has to be a robust set of regulations and rules around this because it is open to so much abuse.

      We are very rapidly approaching the point where technology is become cheap enough and sufficiently powerful that these sorts or systems become viable. All the big-brother scenario films are close to becoming reality and whilst I believe that generally UK police are reasonably trustworthy it is something that can change. They are increasingly becoming a political tool with elected commissioners (or whatever they are called). The fact that the the politicians are becoming lest trustworthy, more likely to lie and the increased status of the special advisers leads me to believe that we should be very worried about this.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Mask

    I will stick with my COVID-19 face mask and dark glasses when outdoors

    1. Intractable Potsherd Silver badge

      Re: Mask

      Damn! Now you've given me a good reason to wear a mask!

      1. Version 1.0 Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Mask

        Sure but if you are going to wear a CAT'S mask make sure it's Mungojerrie or Jennyanydots, not Macavity because if the cameras see you wearing a Macavity mask they will know that you're a master criminal who can defy the law, you are the bafflement of Scotland Yard, the Flying Squad's despair but when they reach the scene recorded by the AI, you won't be there and they will just say, "Well I guess that AI face recognition isn't always accurate."

      2. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: Mask

        Damn! Now you've given me a good reason to wear a mask!

        I have a Priti Patel face mask, for this and other reasons.

    2. Horridbloke
      Unhappy

      Re: Mask

      They probably already contain RFID chips.

  14. Grease Monkey

    22%

    If it has a 22% false positive rate then why are they continuing to use it? Obviously there's no figure for false negatives (how would they know) but a rate of false positives of more than 1 in 5 is something that nobody in the private sector would put up with on a product that they are paying for. So why do they continue to use it and indeed pay for it?

    Well the simple answer is this. It gives them an excuse for stop and search. As such they'd probably prefer a higher rate of false positives.

    The detail I'd be interested in seeing is the rate of false positives on race. And while they're at it they can add things like facial hair and glasses to the list

    Tell you what though. Let's all wear face coverings to protect ourselves from covid-19 and AFR. It's a win win.

    1. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

      Re: 22%

      The detail I'd be interested in seeing is the rate of false positives on race

      Seeing if one's 'stopped' rate changes seems a legitimate excuse for putting on blackface or whiteface.

      1. Evil Scot

        Re: 22%

        Sounds like someone who masks their identity to avoid being caught by the landowner when they performing the most heinous crime of Morris Dancing.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: 22%

      A 22% false positive rate is very accurate when compared to current government policies.

  15. JCitizen Bronze badge
    Pirate

    Food for thoughts and comparison...

    Okay - I get the reasons for push back - and that is healthy in any free society. But I live in a small town, where EVERYBODY knows who you are and probably even know things that are true, that even I didn't know myself, or forgot, at least. So it is difficult for me to see what all the fuss about cameras and facial recognition is all about. Now we do occasionally have a crime in Smallville, and everyone usually thinks they know who did it, but they are rarely correct, but because everyone sees everyone else going down the street, and they know them, it is probably assumed by a person from the large metropolis that Joe Local Sixpack is a goner for good in the courts; but that is rarely how it turns out. Here is the reason why - no matter how well the witness thinks they saw Joe going down the street near the crime scene near the correct time of the incident, they STILL have to prove the ID of the crook under suspicion. This part never ceases to amaze me, because when the police do a line up so the witness(es) can ID the perp, it never fails that they flunk the test for ID of the real perp!!

    So I figure even if the plod have the suspect on CCTV, the court should wait until a camera facial recognition can survive a line up. Why not? Is this machine any better than a real human eye witness? Well actually I should hope so, but I have my doubts. Even people in my town have got away with murder, so just how bad is this surveillance after all. I really don't fear public recognition machines at all. It just comes from being from a small town - your mileage may differ.

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