Siobhan Benita slams London Mayor’s mass surveillance roll-out as a real risk to civil liberties

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Responding to the Metropolitan Police’s announcement on Thursday that it will begin to use automated facial recognition surveillance operationally, Liberal Democrat candidate for Mayor of London Siobhan Benita said:

It is unacceptable for a new form of mass surveillance like this to be rolled out onto London’s streets without proper consultation, regulation or oversight.

Facial recognition technology is hopelessly inaccurate. It is biased against women and ethnic minorities. The evidence that it will make us safer is patchy at best, but there is a real risk that it will erode civil liberties and increase distrust and discrimination.

To make London safer we must restore effective community policing, starting with the re-opening of local police stations, which the current Mayor has shut down.

Liberal Democrats do not want London to become a city where innocent people feel as though their every movement is being watched. The fact that Sadiq Khan has given the go-ahead for this undermines his recent claim to share our liberal values.

If Londoners want a liberal mayor with a positive vision for a safer, greener, kinder capital, their best option is me.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch said:

This decision represents an enormous expansion of the surveillance state and a serious threat to civil liberties in the UK.

It flies in the face of the independent review showing the Met’s use of facial recognition was likely unlawful, risked harming public rights and was 81% inaccurate.

This is a breath-taking assault on our rights and we will challenge it, including by urgently considering next steps in our ongoing legal claim against the Met and the Home Secretary.

This move instantly stains the new Government’s human rights record and we urge an immediate reconsideration.

* News Meerkat - keeping a look-out for Liberal Democrat news. Meerkat photo by Paul Walter

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  • This is excellent. The failure to speak out on this before – coupled with Vince abandoning any talk of civil liberties issues – was a major reason why I didn’t continue party membership or vote LD in 2017/19 (though local circumstances had a lot to do with that as well).

  • I agree with Hywel, this is very welcome and a core Liberal issue (that just doesn’t resonate with the Labour or Conservative party machines). It’s of interest to a small but significant minority of London voters

  • I am old enough to remember the liberals / lib dems opposition to cctv expansion. Many of the same arguments were used and yet we seem to have accepted the use of cctv. Is this the case? And I still cannot get my head round why facial recognition is biased against certain groups.

  • Jenny Barnes 26th Jan '20 - 5:27pm

    V for vendetta masks. And why is my email getting put in the website thing?

  • And Rory Stewart has come out very strongly in favour of the Met using facial recognition technology

  • marcstevens 26th Jan '20 - 9:11pm

    I would agree with David. CCTV has been and is being successfully used to convict burglars who make householders lives a misery just for one example. The victims of crime and ASB need much more support that’s for sure. Facial recognition technology applies to everyone regardless of gender, identity or background and is another tool needed to tackle rising crime in London, there is nothing illiberal about it. Yes we need police stations to be re-opened and more SNT police it was actually the last mayor Mr Johnson who cut them back and closed them down. But the current Mayor is right to give this technology the go ahead. Everyone on the SNT ward panel I attend in Inner London of different backgrounds, races and genders feels the same.

  • Nonconformistradical 26th Jan '20 - 10:48pm

    “Facial recognition technology applies to everyone regardless of gender, identity or background”

    I don’t think so!

    The potential for bias is what makes it such a dangerous tool.

  • The effectiveness of the technology should increase over time, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a wider public debate to be had on the potential for violation of civil rights and civil liberties. We know that China have used these technologies to target Uighur Muslims (and drug purchasers, probably others…), and several American cities have banned or restricted use of live facial recognition out of concerns for minorities and human rights more generally. EU are considering a moratorium of 3-5 years on using the technology in public spaces – to properly assess its impacts and risks – which I think is a sensible approach. Apparently, at present there’s not much transparency or regulation surrounding this sort of technology.

    I do think that the wider public debate on this does need to happen before any kind of wider scale adoption. This is not something that will easily go back in its box once fully opened, so it’s important to take the time to get it right. Using it in airports is one thing, having it cover every square inch of all towns and cities quite another.

  • We should not get hung up on the accuracy of the technology. That will improve as is shown by the dramatic improvement in accuracy in various AI applications. The issue is one of liberty.

  • Nonconformistradical 27th Jan '20 - 11:19am

    @Paul Murray
    I don’t dispute the issue of liberty – however I do feel you are being complacent about the technology.

    The 3rd reference I gave above was dated July 2019 – so not long ago – and states:-
    “In January this year, it emerged that the Met had blown more than £200,000 on facial-recognition trials with little or no arrests to show for it.”

    No way should the Met be adopting this technology – both on civil liberty grounds and waste of resources investigating large numbers of false positive ids.

  • Two days after Ms Benita made this statement, LDV reported Christine Jardine M.P., party’s spokesperson in the Commons, issued a rather different statement, “Liberal Democrats: UK access to crime databases at risk post Brexit”

    Following reports that the exchange of key security information is at risk post Brexit, due to concerns over Britain’s record in protecting personal information, Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine said: ‘Our police rely heavily on co-operation with our EU partners to identify criminals and bring them to justice’.

    Can Ms Benita have to say about this report in the Guardian : ‘Number of homicides in London climbs to 10-year high. Met police recorded 149 homicides in 2019 to 30 December, up from 135 in 2018’.

    Would identifying the perpetrators by the system she opposes not help ?

  • The potential for bias is a subjective view and not based on any evidence or fact. It does need to be implemented asap just n the same way as body cameras are now used and CCTV. Just to give you one example of how CCTV helps in the fight against crime, we had swastika and anti semitic graffiti daubed on various buildings in my area a few days ago. One of the buildings affected affected has CCTV so now that can be examined and used to catch the perpetrators. Those of us who oppose crime and ASB fully support these measures and want them implemented. My SNT ward panel is diverse and all the members of different backgrounds are in favour of its implementation.

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