Revealed: Big Brother facial recognition cameras are watching YOU more than ever – being used by TEN police forces, councils and hundreds of shops across Britain
- A secret Home Office document has revealed the scale of use of the technology
- Plans have been drawn up to use the cameras for wider use it has emerged
- But Hannah Couchman of Liberty said it will ‘end our ability to walk the streets’
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The secret expansion of controversial facial recognition technology has been laid bare after an investigation by The Mail on Sunday discovered it is now being used by ten police forces, councils and hundreds of shops.
Civil liberties groups are increasingly worried by the spread of the ‘Big Brother’ cameras which record a person’s face as they walk along a street and convert the image into an ‘algorithmic pattern’, or ‘biometric print’, which is compared to faces on a database of suspects.
If a match is found, police officers can be ordered to stop and search this person.
‘Big Brother’: Civil liberties groups have hit out at the move to use the technology so widely
A secret Home Office document, seen by this newspaper, names the ten police forces in England and Wales that have trialled live facial recognition (LFR) technology and are now ready to roll out the cameras for wider use.
Last night, Hannah Couchman of campaign group Liberty warned: ‘Using facial recognition in public spaces will end our ability to walk the streets of our home towns without being exposed to unwarranted surveillance.’
Speaking out: Hannah Couchman of campaign group Liberty has criticised the unwarranted surveillance
The Mail on Sunday can reveal:
Southend Council is installing LFR in its town centre, while Glasgow has installed 70 CCTV cameras with similar technology;
LFR was used by police at football matches, concerts and even an Elvis festival;
Clothes and make-up that can help outsmart LFR are now on sale.
Over a week ago, the Metropolitan Police, which had previously tested the technology, became the first force in Britain to roll out LFR.
The Home Office paper reveals that in addition to the Met, police forces covering South Wales, Greater Manchester, Humberside, Leicestershire, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Kent and Essex have used the technology.
British Transport Police have trialled the technology to trace missing persons.
West Yorkshire Police have even received Home Office grants to install LFR in five boroughs. Fearing a backlash at the use of facial recognition, a National Police Chiefs’ Council document warned: ‘LFR operations must be carefully designed with very clear objectives and comprehensive assessment of the rights of everyone whose images may be captured.’
The South Wales force became the first in the country to trial LFR at football and rugby matches, but official records show it was also used at an Elvis tribute festival and a Liam Gallagher concert.
Southend Council is installing facial recognition cameras and will run them with the help of Essex Police. Last night, the council refused to give details, but it is believed the cameras will be used to catch shoplifters or those committing anti-social behaviour in the town centre.
The council has previously said LFR will also be deployed to trace missing people.
Facial recognition technology has already been trialled in some of Britain’s biggest shopping complexes, including the Trafford Centre in Manchester and the Meadowhall complex in Sheffield.
And a company called Facewatch has said it has sold the cameras to more than 100 retailers, bars and restaurants in Britain, including a major supermarket chain.
Captured: An example of a Facial Recognition System concept in action
The Facewatch cameras work by comparing live images against its own database – created by its customers uploading pictures of suspects who have stolen from their premises, or behaved badly.
If a suspect is seen on the premises or nearby, an alert is sent to the mobile app of the owner.
Meanwhile, some groups and companies are now selling clothes and make-up to help people outsmart facial recognition cameras.
For about £25, a firm called Red Bubble is selling skirts, blouses and T-shirts which have been designed to ‘dazzle’ LFR cameras.
Ms Couchman of Liberty said: ‘It is extremely alarming to see this technology spreading and councils and police forces risk creating a society in which our privacy is a thing of the past.’