One of the investors in a major development near King’s Cross station in central London is investigating the use of facial recognition technology on the property. The 67-acre development includes Google and Samsung offices, in addition to shops, schools, and other public-facing services and amenities.
The investor in question is the BT Pension Scheme (BTPS), while Argent is the developer of the property. BTPS indicated that it was unaware of Argent’s use of facial recognition, and began looking into the matter following news reports that triggered an investigation from the UK’s privacy watchdog, the Information Commissioner’s Office.
“We are looking into the reported use of facial recognition at King’s Cross and take this issue very seriously,” read a statement from Hermes Investment Management, which spoke on behalf of BTPS. “We are working closely with Argent to fully understand the extent and use of this technology.”
According to the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) law, biometric information – including facial images – is classified as “sensitive data” that can only be used in specific situations. Argent previously indicated that it was using face-based surveillance to “ensure public safety,” although the scope of the program (and Argent’s database) remain unclear.
A job listing from the US security firm Allied Universal referenced a Facewatch surveillance system at King’s Cross Estate. However, the firm removed the reference to facial recognition following an inquiry from the BBC. Facewatch, meanwhile, acknowledged that while it had worked on a crime reporting project in the area, it ended three years ago and the company “did not deploy or use any facial recognition technology in this project or work with Argent.”
The news that even the site’s investors were unaware of the use of facial recognition is likely to increase the level of scrutiny, especially as privacy advocates continue to challenge the police’s use of facial recognition in court. It’s also worth nothing that the UK’s tax authority recently had to delete 5 million voice files that ran afoul of the new GDPR regulations.
August 19, 2019 – by Eric Weiss