London’s King’s Cross station facial recognition technology under investigation by the ICO

11. September 2019

Initially reported by the Financial Times, London’s King’s Cross station is under crossfire for making use of a live face-scanning system across its 67 acres large site. Developed by Argent, it was confirmed that the system has been used to ensure public safety, being part of a number of detection and tracking methods used in terms of surveillance at the famous train station. While the site is privately owned, it is widely used by the public and houses various shops, cafes, restaurants, as well as office spaces with tenants like, for example, Google.

The controversy behind the technology and its legality stems from the fact that it records everyone in its parameters without their consent, analyzing their faces and compairing them to a database of wanted criminals, suspects and persons of interest. While Developer Argent defended the technology, it has not yet explained what the system is, how it is used and how long it has been in place.

A day before the ICO launched its investigation, a letter from King’s Cross Chief Executive Robert Evans reached London Mayor Sadiq Khan, explaining the matching of the technology against a watchlist of flagged individuals. In effect, if footage is unmatched, it is blurred out and deleted. In case of a match, it is only shared with law enforcement. The Metropolitan Police Service has stated that they have supplied images for a database to carry out facial scans to system, though it claims to not have done so since March, 2018.

Despite the explanation and the distinct statements that the software is abiding by England’s data protection laws, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has launched an investigation into the technology and its use in the private sector. Businesses would need to explicitly demonstrate that the use of such surveillance technology is strictly necessary and proportionate for their legitimate interests and public safety. In her statement, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham further said that she is deeply concerned, since “scanning people‚Äôs faces as they lawfully go about their daily lives, in order to identify them, is a potential threat to privacy that should concern us all,” especially if its being done without their knowledge.

The controversy has sparked a demand for a law about facial recognition, igniting a dialogue about new technologies and future-proofing against the yet unknown privacy issues they may cause.

Category: GDPR · General · UK
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