BREAKING: Big Brother Watch launches legal challenge to Government and Met Police on “dangerously authoritarian” facial recognition cameras

Your support is vital to defeat the lawless use of this Orwellian surveillance. THANK YOU.

Big Brother Watch has today launched a landmark legal challenge to the Metropolitan Police’s use of real-time facial recognition cameras.

Big Brother Watch has joined with parliamentarian Baroness Jenny Jones to urge Home Secretary Sajid Javid and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to stop the police’s use of the “dangerously authoritarian” surveillance technology.

The Met has targeted Notting Hill Carnival twice as well as Remembrance Sunday with the China-style surveillance cameras, which Big Brother Watch describes as a “lawless growth of Orwellian surveillance”.

Police have been deploying facial recognition technology with secret watch lists containing not only people wanted for arrest but also protesters, football fans and innocent people with mental health problems.

Big Brother Watch recently took the results of its Freedom of Information campaign to Parliament, revealing that the Met’s facial recognition “matches” had wrongly identified innocent people 98% of the time.

This led to biometric photos of over 100 innocent people being stored on police databases, without their knowledge.

Despite attracting public controversy and a national campaign, the Met has vowed to increase its use of automated facial recognition with seven deployments planned for the next five months.

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones claim that police lack a legal basis to use the technology and that it breaches fundamental human rights protecting privacy and freedom of expression.

Baroness Jones has raised fears that even she could end up on a facial recognition watch list when conducting her parliamentary and political duties.

A photo of her was infamously held on the Met’s “domestic extremism” watch list and her political activities monitored while she sat on an official committee scrutinising the Met and stood to be London’s mayor.

Big Brother Watch and Baroness Jones have vowed to take the force to court with public support raised on the crowdfunding site Crowdjustice if the Met continues to use the surveillance tool.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“The lawless growth of this Orwellian surveillance technology must be stopped. Facial recognition cameras are dangerously authoritarian, hopelessly inaccurate, and risk turning members of the public into walking ID cards.

The UK already has the most extensive CCTV of any democracy in the West. The prospect of facial recognition turning those CCTV cameras into identity checkpoints like China is utterly terrifying. The police’s use of facial recognition will make the UK a less free place to live and Big Brother Watch will fight every step of the way to stop it.”

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Police warned about using algorithms to decide who’s locked up

This week, on Tuesday 14th November 2017, the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee took oral evidence on the use of algorithms in decision making.

BBC News reported on the session in this article – Police warned about using algorithms to decide who’s locked up:

Police should not keep suspects locked up because a computer program has told them they are likely to be offenders, a human rights group has told MPs.

Algorithms that predict whether someone is a criminal based on past behaviour, gender and where they live could be “discriminatory”, Liberty said.

The human rights group was giving evidence to the Commons science and technology committee.

The MPs are investigating the growing use of algorithms in decision making.

They are concerned businesses and public bodies are relying on computer programs to make life-changing decisions – despite the potential scope for errors and misunderstandings.

Durham Police have already launched a system which uses algorithms to help decide whether to keep a suspect in custody.

The Harm Assessment Risk Tool (HART) uses historical data on offending to classify suspects as low, medium or high risk of offending.

The tool uses information such as offending history, the type of crime a suspect has been accused of, their postcode and gender.

But Silkie Carlo, Senior Advocacy Officer for Liberty, warned such systems should be seen as “at best advisory”.

She pointed to evidence from the US which suggested algorithms in the criminal justice system were more likely to incorrectly judge black defendants as having a higher risk of reoffending than white defendants.

Durham Police stress that use of the algorithm’s decision is “advisory” and officers can use their discretion.

But Professor Louise Amoore of Durham University warned it can be “difficult” for a human “to make a decision against the grain of the algorithm”.

Ms Carlo said Liberty had requested data from Durham Police about how common the use of human discretion was in decisions using algorithms, but the request was rejected.

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Liberty, Amnesty, Big Brother Watch, Privacy International & Others Challenge UK Government on mass surveillance at European Court of Human Rights

Last week, I was in Strasbourg for a hearing at the European Court of Human Rights for Liberty & others’ challenge to the UK Government’s bulk interception regime as exposed in the Snowden documents.

Programs revealed in the Snowden documents like ‘Tempora’ allowed GCHQ to intercept and store a back-up of all communications entering and leaving the UK via fibre-optic cables, for retrospective analysis.

The challenge was launched in 2013 by multiple NGOs including 10 human rights organisations from around the world, including Liberty, plus the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Big Brother Watch, and others.

We are confident that the Court will find the UK’s mass interception regime incompatible with ECHR rights – the human rights framework exists to protect populations from exactly this type of state abuse.

You can read Liberty’s blog about the case here.

You can read our press release here.

You can watch a video of the full hearing here.


Technology and human rights in 2017

Below is a transcript of my talk at Liberty’s 2017 Annual General Meeting:

We have the extraordinary challenge, and the privilege, of being at a unique and vital axis in time – the precipice of a seismic technological revolution. As the world rapidly changes, our struggle to uphold, entrench, and extend human rights at the core of it is a struggle that’s outcome will certainly outlive us.

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We often pair technology and surveillance, because new ‘smart’ and internet connected technologies are used for surveillance, tracking, and data collection. If the industrial revolution was fueled by oil, the technological revolution is being fueled by data – a valuable commodity that is being mined and exploited at almost any cost. Protecting privacy is the environmental challenge of the information age. It is fundamental to the sustainability of a healthy democratic society.

As technological innovation grows, so too do the opportunities to embed surveillance in all aspects of everyday life.

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Surveillance has taken root from the phones in our pockets, and is increasingly creeping into the home.

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Why Google DeepMind secretly gaining 1.6 million UK patient records is a human rights issue

Published on Liberty’s blog, 7 July 2017

By Silkie Carlo

There’s been a privacy scandal unravelling behind the scenes in the NHS for the last 18 months. You might be affected – and you wouldn’t even know.

If you or a loved one visited the Royal Free London Hospital between 2010 and 2015 – or Barnet or Chase Farm hospitals between July 2014 and 2015* – Google DeepMind may well have a copy of your medical records.

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Giving evidence on the Edward Snowden revelations at the German Bundestag

On 1 December 2016, I gave oral evidence to Germany’s Bundestag Committee of Inquiry on the subject of international mass surveillance, as revealed by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden.

This is the only major over-arching inquiry into Snowden’s revelations of NSA/international mass surveillance. The Committee requested evidence on what the UK’s Agencies have been up to and what the recent legislative process (the Investigatory Powers Act) had been like.

It was a good opportunity to reaffirm that the UK’s new surveillance legislation is not compliant with human rights law and only entrenches and extends, rather than remedies, mass surveillance. It sets a dangerous precedent.

The video of my oral evidence is here, and a transcript is posted below:



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