Today (26th January 2021), Amnesty International has launched a global campaign to ban the use of facial recognition systems, which it calls “a form of mass surveillance that amplifies racist policing and threatens the right to protest”. [1]

Facial recognition technology is controversial. Just three days ago, a report in the Guardian newspaper, written by John Naughton, [2] discussed a research paper which suggested that facial recognition technology could even tell your political orientation, just by comparing the face ‘recognised’ with the faces of people’s whose political opinions were already known.

Amnesty International’s campaign, which is called ‘Ban the Scan’, is beginning in New York, but will eventually spread outwards to other parts of the world. Matt Mahmoudi, an Artificial Intelligence (AI) and human rights researcher at Amnesty International, said:

“From New Delhi to New York, this invasive technology turns our identities against us and undermines human rights. New Yorkers should be able to go out about their daily lives without being tracked by facial recognition. Other major cities across the US have already banned facial recognition, and New York must do the same.”

Others allege that facial recognition technology increases the threat of racist policing. The founder of social justice organisation, Warriors in the Garden, Derrick Ingram, claims that certain people within the community are being, and can be, targeted by the police. Ingram said:

“We’re being specifically targeted with this technology because of what we’re protesting and because we’re trying to deconstruct a system that the police are a part of.”

Facial recognition technology does seem to be becoming more widespread. In late 2019, Federal agencies in the United States were considering extending the use of facial recognition technology to airports across the country. This raised a number of concerns, particularly with human rights groups.

Another serious question that is being raised is whether the law can keep up with the development of such sophisticated technology – and how it might be used. Last year, the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said use of the technology should be suspended – at least until its potential impact was considered and appropriate laws put in place to deal with it. Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the EHRC said:

“The law is clearly on the back foot with invasive [facial recognition] and predictive policing technologies. It is essential that their use is suspended until robust, independent impact assessments and consultations can be carried out, so that we know exactly how this technology is being used and are reassured that our rights are being respected.”


[2] - ‘Can Facial Recognition Technology Really Reveal Political Orientation?’ – The Guardian 23rd January 2021

[3] ‘Use of facial recognition needs independent scrutiny to protect human rights, UN told’ – Police Professional 12 March 2020

Points to Consider:

Here are just a few points to consider -

What issues, and potential problems, do you think facial recognition technology raises?

Do you think the law is able to ‘keep up’ with the speed of technological change in this area?

How do you think the law should control the use of this type of technology, if at all?

Is facial recognition technology being used in your jurisdiction? If so, in what situations, and how is it being controlled, if at all?

© Cambridge Legal English Academy 2021

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