British lawmakers call for pause in live facial recognition surveillance

By Martin Coulter

LONDON (Reuters) – A cross-party coalition of 65 British lawmakers called on Friday for a pause in use of live facial recognition surveillance on the country’s streets.

The use of the technology in Britain has long been criticised by civil liberties groups such as Amnesty International, and faces a blanket ban in the European Union.

British police have previously deployed live facial recognition at a number of large-scale public events, including the recent coronation of King Charles II.

The move comes after policing minister Chris Philp, speaking at the ruling Conservative party’s annual conference this week, suggested a new database of British passports could be used to catch criminals through biometric surveillance, drawing criticism from some.

In a joint statement published on Friday, lawmakers from across the political spectrum said: “We call on UK police and private companies to immediately stop using live facial recognition for public surveillance.”

Signatories included veteran Conservative MP David Davis, Labour politicians Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, and Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey.

A number of non-profits and charities backed the campaign, including Big Brother Watch, the Runnymede Trust and Foxglove.

“This dangerously authoritarian technology has the potential to turn populations into walking ID cards in a constant police line-up,” said Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch.

“There must be an urgent stop to live facial recognition, parliamentary scrutiny, and a much wider democratic debate before we introduce such privacy-altering technology to British life.”

(Reporting by Martin Coulter; Editing by Alex Richardson)