Haringey says no to facial recognition surveillance


Councillors have voted to tell the Government, Met and Mayor of London to keep live facial recognition out of Haringey.

At a Full Council meeting held virtually on Monday, 13th July, councillors debated a motion expressing their support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Cllrs Julia Ogiehor (LD – Muswell Hill) and Sakina Chenot (LD – Fortis Green) not only spoke in support of this but moved an amendment to add additional concrete actions to it. This included calling on the Met to eschew “any tactics which have a discriminatory impact” and “ensure that live facial recognition technology is not deployed in the borough”.

This surveillance technology which involves scanning the faces of members of the public without their position and matching it to a database of suspects has proved controversial. A report by the Human Rights, Big Data & Technology Project at Essex University found that during a trial of a facial recognition system by the Metropolitan Police conducted between June 2018 and February 2019 81% of those flagged as suspects were wrongly identified. Whilst Liberty has argued it is “a dangerously intrusive and discriminatory technology that destroys our privacy rights and forces people to change their behaviour. It has no place on the streets of a free, rights-respecting democracy.”

In her speech seconding the amendment, Cllr Chenot raised similar concerns that facial recognition surveillance “strips away privacy from everyone, and there is no evidence that it can reliably identify anyone. It should not be used on any face of any race.

“However, there are particular concerns about its accuracy when applied to non-white people. The Met’s own internal testing found demographic biases. Which is not surprising because these systems are created in Silicon Valley by mostly white developers working from databases of mostly white faces.”

Whilst the increase in mask wearing in response to Covid-19 seems to have slowed the Met’s roll-out of this surveillance technology, Cllr Ogiehor warns that it remains a threat to community relations in London:

“After George Floyd’s murder the Met promised that they would ‘tackle bias, racism or discrimination wherever we find it.’ Well, it is in the software they are proposing to conduct mass surveillance with. Pushing ahead with this invasion of privacy would unquestionably undermine trust in the police, especially amongst black and minority ethnic Londoners”.

Silkie Carlo, director of the civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, which has long campaigned against live facial recognition said:

“This is an excellent move by a major London council to push back against live facial recognition and protect citizens’ rights. The police’s adoption of this extreme surveillance technology has been undemocratic, lawless and risks perpetuating discrimination in British policing. This motion will set a precedent for other councils to push back too and is a fantastic example of local democracy in action.”