Meadowhall facial recognition scheme troubles watchdog

Police involvement in a private landlord’s facial recognition trial has led a regulator to call for government intervention.

BBC Radio 4’s File on 4 has learned that South Yorkshire Police shared three photos of serious offenders and one of a vulnerable missing person with Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre.

It follows similar controversial tie-ups in Manchester and London.

Meadowhall owner British Land said the 2018 test only lasted four weeks.

It added that it had “no plans” to use facial recognition at its sites, and that all personal data gathered during the trial was “immediately deleted”.

South Yorkshire Police disclosed last August that it had “supported” the scheme to understand “opportunities associated with this technology,” but did not provide further detail at the time. It has declined to comment further.

Privacy campaign group Big Brother Watch uncovered the added information about the Meadowhall scheme.

Tony Porter, the Surveillance Camera Commissioner (SCC) for England and Wales, has now called for government inspections into police use of facial recognition technology.

“I think if the public are going to be reassured, there does need to be a very clear oversight mechanism,” Mr Porter told File on 4.

“And I would say that at the moment isn’t obvious. I think the next step is for the government to address that gap in each and every circumstance that is required.”

The Home Office’s Surveillance Camera Code of Practice, which governs schemes involving both police and the private sector, states that “any use of facial recognition or other biometric characteristic recognition systems needs to be clearly justified and proportionate”.

“You should no more give an absolute open sesame on personal surveillance, which is what facial recognition is, than you would give any police force the right to search you or your house without a warrant,” he said.

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