British privacy advocates are once again calling for greater oversight after exposing the South Yorkshire Police’s involvement in a 2018 facial recognition trial program at the Meadowhall Shopping Center in Sheffield, England. During the trial, the Police supplied British Land, the owners of the shopping center, with photographs of three serious offenders and one missing person.
According to British Land, the trial lasted for a period of four weeks. The company said it does not have any plans to install a more permanent system, and that the information collected during the trial was deleted once it was complete.
Even so, there are questions about the way it was conducted. British Land did not put up any signs to warn shoppers about the trial, nor were they forthcoming about the nature of the Police’s involvement. The South Yorkshire Police had previously confirmed their support of the pilot, but did not disclose that they had shared database photos with a private organization. That detail was eventually uncovered by Big Brother Watch.
In the wake of the news, Tony Porter has called for a government investigation and requested a meeting with the South Yorkshire Police (Porter is the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) for England and Wales). Big Brother Watch, meanwhile, stressed that the lack of disclosure makes it more difficult to hold organizations accountable for any misuse of facial recognition.
“We’re now at a stage where we think millions of people in this country could have been scanned by facial recognition, many of whom don’t even know about it,” said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo.
This is not the first time that British police have been criticized for trying to hide their involvement in a facial recognition scheme. In fact, the Meadowhall case resembles a similar case that is currently under investigation in central London, in which the police provided database images to a private development near King’s Cross station.
However, the backlash has not diminished police enthusiasm for facial recognition. London’s Metropolitan Police recently announced plans to expand its facial recognition program, while the South Wales Police used the technology during a soccer match in Cardiff City.
January 28, 2020 – by Eric Weiss