UK regulator concerned about live facial recognition misuse


The British privacy regulator ICO is seriously concerned about the misuse of live facial recognition systems in public spaces, partly based on its own investigation in which all investigated organizations that used or wanted to use the technology did not comply with the rules.


"When sensitive personal data is collected on a massive scale without people knowing, having a choice or control, the consequences can be very dire," said Elizabeth Denham, the UK's Information Commissioner. "We need to be able to take our kids outside, visit a shopping center or see the highlights of a city without our biometric data being collected and analyzed every step of the way."


Denham notes that unlike traditional CCTV, live facial recognition and the algorithms used can identify and profile people immediately. "In the future, there is the potential to equip security cameras with live facial recognition, and even combine it with social media data or other 'big data' systems. Live facial recognition is supercharged camera surveillance," warns the information commissioner.


She has written an opinion on the use of live facial recognition in public spaces and that organizations should put people's privacy at the heart of their decision to roll out the technology ( pdf ). The opinion follows an investigation by the ICO into six organizations that used, tested or wanted to roll out live facial recognition. None of the organizations could justify the processing and none of them complied with privacy legislation when using it.


According to Denham, organizations must meet high standards of compliance and accountability from the outset and demonstrate that they have researched and understood the risks of technology to people's privacy. In the opinion, the ICO also discusses the rules of the game for the use of facial recognition. Denham says she can use the opinion as a guideline for the interpretation and application of the law.

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