The UK Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, has published a Commissioner’s Opinion on the use of live facial recognition (LFR) in public places by private companies and public organisations. 

In a blog post, Elizabeth Denham explained the benefits that facial recognition technology brings to our lives; from allowing us to unlocking our mobile devices to going through passport control. However, Ms. Denham expressed her deep concerns about the potential for LFR technology to be used inapproprately.

“…when the technology and its algorithms are used to scan people’s faces in real time and in more public contexts, the risks to people’s privacy increases,” said Ms Denham. ” When sensitive personal data is collected on a mass scale without people’s knowledge, choice or control, the impacts could be significant.”

The Commissioner went on to stress that the public should be able to take their children to a leisure complex, visit a shopping centre or tour a city without having their biometric data collected and analysed.

”It is not my role to endorse or ban a technology but, while this technology is developing and not widely deployed, we have an opportunity to ensure it does not expand without due regard for data protection.

“Therefore, today I have published a Commissioner’s Opinion on the use of LFR in public places by private companies and public organisations. It explains how data protection and people’s privacy must be at the heart of any decisions to deploy LFR. And it explains how the law sets a high bar to justify the use of LFR and its algorithms in places where we shop, socialise or gather.”

The Opinion is informed in part by six ICO investigations into the use, testing or planned deployment of LFR systems, as well as its assessments of other proposals that have been sent to the ICO. 

”With any new technology, building public trust and confidence in the way people’s information is used is crucial so the benefits derived from the technology can be fully realised,” Ms Denham added.

“In the US, people did not trust the technology. Some cities banned its use in certain contexts and some major companies have paused facial recognition services until there are clearer rules. Without trust, the benefits the technology may offer are lost.”

Organisations will need to demonstrate high standards of governance and accountability from the outset, including being able to justify the use of LFR is “fair, necessary and proportionate.”

”My office will continue to focus on technologies that have the potential to be privacy invasive, working to support innovation while protecting the public. Where necessary we will tackle poor compliance with the law.”