What control looks like: British Government working with businesses to breach data protection safeguards

What control looks like: British Government working with businesses to breach data protection safeguards

London - ImpACT International for Human Rights Policies, the London based think tank, are concerned with the unlawful plans by the British Government to use facial recognition technology on migrants and gather their personal data, including biometrics. The UK authorities at the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office are working with businesses, namely Buddi Limited, to develop software and systems in a muti-million-pound contract to monitor specific groups and migrants that have been involved in crime. There is even the proposal that some will be permanently tagged with bracelets and smart watches that use the GPS network to always record their location.

Such measures may be commonplace in Palestine, China, or Chechnya, but surely not here, unfortunately they are. Regretfully, aspects of a dystopian future only seen in certain novels are beginning to become commonplace. ImpACT International have repeatedly raised the alarm on this technology, which has hardware and algorithms that fail to fairly assess those from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. This limits the UK’s scope to be a supposed force for human rights elsewhere. Indeed, the British Government could endanger and abandon any moral high ground they have as a purported bastion of civil liberties even at home.

Enhancing and perfecting technology which monitors people should concern all those that are champions of civil liberties in the UK

Given the prevalence of hacking and the use of data in cyberwars, and to put it frankly, the incompetence of the UK’s Home Office, no one can be certain that the facial data collected by the authorities will be stored securely and safely (a legal requirement). It is simply impossible for those guarantees to be given.

Under existing data protection legislation, it can be argued that this latest scheme is unlawful. The use of biometric data, which includes facial recognition technology, in private spheres such as business, can only be used if it is proportionate and seeks to resolve a specific problem that no other solution can mitigate. This scheme is not needed and should therefore be struck down by the courts. It is not only disproportional but also potentially dangerous.

The Metropolitan Police in England’s capital, London, have earlier created controversy using this technology randomly on the streets. This act without lawful authority is carried out in a legal grey area where the state will exploit loopholes to expand surveillance and infringe on rights into all areas unless explicitly prevented by law. There are even instances of technology being used to gather data that the authorities should be prevented from collecting. A law-abiding citizen in the UK was charged with a public order offence when he covered his face in response to the facial recognition technology being unlawfully used.

Enhancing and perfecting, if that term can be used, technology which monitors people should concern all those that are champions of civil liberties in the UK. Regretfully, a pattern is emerging.

The Government seeking to reverse the Human Rights Act 1998 and replace it with a new British Bill of Rights. This has caused consternation amongst the legal profession which regularly took cases to the European Court of Human Rights in important cases that have changed the legal landscape in the UK. Furthermore, as reported by ImpACT here the Government are planning to undo the Data Protection Act 2018, reversing many of the safeguards that protect people from intrusion. Should those changes come to pass, if commercial entities will be allowed to conduct even more surveillance, then the state will be able to spy on its own citizens and employ AI technology to make judgements against us using our own faces and biometrics as the weapon.

With freedom of speech activists regularly intimidated by disapproving police, and some ethnic minorities alarmed about additional attention being paid to their communities, all should be worried.

First they came for the migrants. This technology could be the slippery slope and endanger civil liberties for all.


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