Posted by righttoprivacy in Privacy

QUOTE: "Senior officials at the Home Office secretly lobbied the UK’s independent privacy regulator to act “favourably” towards a private firm keen to roll out controversial facial recognition technology across the country, according to internal government emails seen by the Observer.

Correspondence reveals that the Home Office wrote to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) warning that policing minister, Chris Philp, would “write to your commissioner” if the regulator’s investigation into Facewatch – whose facial recognition cameras have provoked huge opposition after being installed in shops – was not positive towards the firm.

An official from the Home Office’s data and identity directorate warned the ICO: “If you are about to do something imminently in Facewatch’s favour then I should be able to head that off [Philp’s intervention], otherwise we will just have to let it take its course.”

The apparent threat came two days after a closed-door meeting on 8 March between Philp, senior Home Office officials and Facewatch.

Facewatch uses cameras to check faces against a watch list and, despite widespread concern over the technology, it has already been introduced in hundreds of high street shops and supermarkets.

The use of facial recognition has provoked fierce criticism over its impact on privacy and human rights, with the European Union seeking to ban the technology in public spaces through proposed legislation.

The heavily redacted correspondence also reveals that, even before the alleged threat, an internal February ICO briefing into its Facewatch investigation – codenamed Operation Kegon 3 – indicates that the Home Office had made it plain to the regulator that facial recognition to combat retail crime was being pushed aggressively by Philp.

“The Home Office have flagged that LFR [live facial recognition] in a commercial setting for crime detection/prevention purposes is an area that is high on the minister’s agenda,” states an executive summary of progress in the ICO investigation into Facewatch, weeks before it officially concluded.

The Home Office’s enthusiasm for biometric surveillance is considered so great that the ICO classifies it as an “ongoing risk”, ranked alongside the “still unknown” effects of the use of the technology in shops.

The ICO told the Observer that the Home Office had “no influence” on its investigation into Facewatch, while the Home Office said Philp – appointed policing minister by Rishi Sunak last October – had not attempted to influence the regulator.

The ICO concluded its investigation into Facewatch on 31 March – several weeks after the Home Office warning – with a blog explaining that no further regulatory action was required against the firm because it was “satisfied the company has a legitimate purpose for using people’s information for the detection and prevention of crime”."

Whole story smells.



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