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UK's surveillance guidance shows tech is "impossible to regulate"

Privacy group Liberty says the updated code of practice fails to account for the dangers created by this "dystopian surveillance tool"

The UK government’s updated surveillance camera code of practice, which includes the use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement, show that it's "impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design".

That's according to Megan Goulding, lawyer for the UK’s largest civil liberties organisation Liberty. 

The guidance on the appropriate use of surveillance camera systems by local authorities and the police was implemented in 2013 and hasn’t been revised since. The newly proposed changes would update the guidance in reference to the UK’s Data Protection Act 2018 as well as last year’s Bridges v South Wales Police ruling, which deemed facial recognition technology for law enforcement purposes as unlawful.

Despite the ruling, the newly proposed amendment takes into account the use of the technology, stating that “any use of facial recognition or other biometric characteristic recognition systems needs to be clearly justified and proportionate in meeting the stated purpose, and be suitably validated”.

The government is open to consultation regarding the amendment, which would be the first since the guidance was introduced in 2013, until 8 September 2021.

Goulding, who was involved in advising the appellant in the Bridges v South Wales Police court case, said that “one year since our case led the court to agree that this technology violates our rights and threatens our liberty”.

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“These guidelines fail to properly account for either the Court's findings or the dangers created by this dystopian surveillance tool,” she told IT Pro.

According to Goulding, the use of facial recognition will “turn public spaces into open-air prisons, and entrench patterns of discrimination that already oppress entire communities”, adding that, in order to create safer communities, the government “needs to listen to the people who experience discriminatory over-policing”, explore “solutions that rebuild trust”, as well as “stop relying on coercion, control, and punishment”.

"The changes to this surveillance guidance show that it is impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design. The safest, and only, thing to do with facial recognition is to ban it,” she told IT Pro. “Whatever our background or beliefs, we all want to feel safe and be able to go about our lives freely. Facial recognition undermines these ideals.”

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