Facial recognition tests carried out at Meadowhall in Sheffield

Facial recognition tests were carried out at Meadowhall, it has emerged – with shoppers and staff captured on camera and scanned without their knowledge in a police run trial.

By Claire Lewis
Friday, 16th August 2019, 5:34 pm

Following an investigation by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, the organisation claims facial recognition technology has been used in shopping centres, museums and conference centres around the UK.

The organisation labelled the use of the technology an ‘epidemic’ and said its use on privately owned sites was ‘deeply disturbing’.

The group said trials of the technology were carried out at Meadowhall last year, while the technology was also used at the World Museum in Liverpool and Millennium Point conference centre in Birmingham.

On Thursday, the Information Commissioner's Office announced it would launch its own investigation into the use of facial recognition cameras after it was revealed scanners were being used in the King's Cross area of London.

The UK's data and privacy watchdog said it was ‘deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces’ and is seeking ‘detailed information’ about how it is used.

Today, British Land, which owns Meadowhall, confirmed use of facial recognition technology at the shopping centre during a trial but said it is not used now.

The firm said: “We do not operate facial recognition at any of our assets.

“However, over a year ago we conducted a short trial at Meadowhall, in conjunction with the police, and all data was deleted immediately after the trial.”

Big Brother Watch chief executive, Silkie Carlo, said increasing use of the technology was placing personal privacy at risk.

"There is an epidemic of facial recognition in the UK," she said.

"The collusion between police and private companies in building these surveillance nets around popular spaces is deeply disturbing. Facial recognition is the perfect tool of oppression and the widespread use we've found indicates we're facing a privacy emergency.

"We now know that many millions of innocent people will have had their faces scanned with this surveillance without knowing about it, whether by police or by private companies."

She added: “Facial recognition surveillance risks making privacy in Britain extinct.

"Parliament must follow in the footsteps of legislators in the US and urgently ban this authoritarian surveillance from public spaces."

Last month, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee said authorities should cease trials of facial recognition technology until a legal framework is established.

MPs said the lack of legislation calls into question the legal basis of the trials.

In a statement, South Yorkshire Police said: “Meadowhall advised us of their intention to undertake a trial using facial recognition technology. We supported a four-week trial in order to develop a better understanding of opportunities associated with the use of this technology.”