ICO to investigate legality of landlord’s use of facial recognition technology

The use of facial recognition technology at an office, leisure and retail development in King's Cross is to be investigated for compliance with data protection rules, the Information Commissioner has said.

Developer Argent LLP has deployed the technology on the 67-acre site surrounding King's Cross Station in London for public safety purposes. It uses cameras to record facial characteristics of all visitors to the area and compares them with a database to identify potential offenders. The development is set to host a new 650,000 sq ft campus for Google and houses the main offices of the local authority, the London Borough of Camden.

The ICO said that it intended to inspect the system and its operation on-site and demand detailed information from the relevant organisations about how the technology is used to assess whether or not it complies with data protection law.

Announcing the investigation, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham said that the use of facial recognition technology was a priority issue for the regulator.

“Scanning people’s 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. That is especially the case if it is done without people’s knowledge or understanding,” she said.

“I remain deeply concerned about the growing use of facial recognition technology in public spaces, not only by law enforcement agencies but also increasingly by the private sector. My office and the judiciary are both independently considering the legal issues and whether the current framework has kept pace with emerging technologies and people’s expectations about how their most sensitive personal data is used.

“Put simply, any organisations wanting to use facial recognition technology must comply with the law - and they must do so in a fair, transparent and accountable way. They must have documented how and why they believe their use of the technology is legal, proportionate and justified.

“We support keeping people safe but new technologies and new uses of sensitive personal data must always be balanced against people’s legal rights.”

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