Managing Editor, IFSEC Insider

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James Moore is the Managing Editor of IFSEC Insider, the leading online publication for security and fire news in the industry. James writes, commissions, edits and produces content for IFSEC Insider, including articles, breaking news stories and exclusive industry reports. He liaises and speaks with leading industry figures, vendors and associations to ensure security and fire professionals remain abreast of all the latest developments in the sector.
April 4, 2023

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Facial recognition

ICO clears live facial recognition system from Facewatch as legally compliant

Following a formal assessment by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the use of Facewatch’s live facial recognition technology in retail stores has been cleared as compliant with data protection legislation.

In July last year, privacy campaigners had mounted a formal complaint against the use of Facewatch’s system in 35 Co-Op branches across the south of England. The campaign group, Big Brother Watch, had described the use of live facial recognition as “Orwellian in the extreme”.

FacialRecognition-AI-Camera-Scharfsinn-AlamyStock-23The investigation by the ICO ultimately concluded that no further regulatory action was required, and that it was “satisfied the company has a legitimate purpose for using people’s information for the detection and prevention of crime”.

Facewatch specialises in live facial recognition systems in the retail sector. It maintained throughout the process that its system complied with the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s Secured by Design protocols and is fully GDPR compliant.

A “balancing act between privacy rights and crime prevention”

In a post on the ICO website, Stephen Bonner, the ICO’s Deputy Commissioner for Regulatory Supervision, noted the need to weigh the use of facial recognition to prevent and detection crime against the privacy rights of the individual.

He noted how the ICO had raised areas of concern, which Facewatch then “made, and continues to make, improvements to its product”. These improvements included reducing the personal data they collect by focusing on repeat offenders or individuals committing more serious offences; appointing a Data Protection Officer; and protecting those classified as ‘vulnerable’ by ensuring they didn’t become a subject of interest.

The ICO concluded that based on these improvements, it was “satisfied the company has a legitimate purpose for using people’s information for the detection and prevention of crime” and that no further regulatory action was required.

It did, however, issue a word of warning to the wider industry, saying that the decision does not give a “green light to the blanket use of this technology”. Each use should be considered on its own merits, and must always balance individual privacy rights with crime prevention.

Surveillance Camera certification for Facewatch live facial recognition system

The ICO judgement followed the recent awarding of the Surveillance Camera Commissioner’s certification mark to the Facewatch system for meeting the Surveillance Camera Code of Practice for the use of live facial recognition.

Commissioner Fraser Sampson, said: “By successfully engaging with the professional accreditation bodies and my certification scheme, an organisation, and more importantly the public, may be reassured that surveillance camera systems which intrude upon their privacy are being demonstrably operated ethically and legitimately to an appropriate standard.

“The certification scheme goes above and beyond the basic requirements of data protection and is designed, as is the government’s Surveillance Camera Code, to enable operators of surveillance camera systems to make legitimate use of available technology in a way that the public would rightly expect and to a standard that maintains public trust and confidence. I acknowledge your excellent and most commendable commitment in that regard arising from your engagement with this process.”

Facewatch Chairman, Nick Fisher said: “The ICO judgement and Biometrics Commissioner award underlines our commitment to best practice, both to prevent crime and protect staff and customers. The public and our subscribers can continue to have confidence in our systems and privacy safeguards.”


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