Over the past month, online platforms that cater to both European and non-European citizens have been sending out emails notifying users of changes in the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). And while the majority of European governments have been adjusting how citizens’ private data is being used, the British government has begun using surveillance in UK cities to incriminate suspected citizens just walking on the streets.
On June 13th, Ed Bridges filed a report against the Wales police force for using automated surveillance cameras to identify him while at a peaceful anti-arms protest and another time while doing Christmas shopping in the Welsh capital Cardiff.
Bridges claims the surveillance by the Welsh police is a violation of his privacy. “We should be able to walk around in our cities without the feeling that the state is watching our every move,” he said to Reuters. “It doesn’t seem right in a democratic society.”
After filing the case, Bridges gave Welsh police 14 days to turn the surveillance system off before he took them to court. He doesn’t, however, believe that police will turn off surveillance system, suggesting that they will need to prove proportional and reasonable usage of the technology in court.
The surveillance cameras identify citizens by creating a ‘map’ of their biometric data and comparing that information to police databases, enabling Welsh police to scan passersby without their knowledge or permission.
In light of Bridges’ case, a study by UK-based NGO Big Brother Watch was released highlighting police usage of surveillance cameras to identify ordinary citizens in a way similar to how Bridges was identified in Cardiff.
According to Big Brother Watch, since the South Wales police force began using the surveillance technology, 91 percent of their matches have been incorrect. This, however, hasn’t deterred the force from planning to use the surveillance technology in the future. In fact, the South Wales police force has created a database of images of up to to 2,400 misidentified peoples without their knowledge or permission.
The surveillance technology used by the Metropolitan Police in London has a staggering inaccuracy rate of 98 percent. During last year’s Notting Hill Carnival, the technology misidentified people about 102 times. Despite the hiccup, the police force is planning for seven more deployments in 2018.
In exchange for personal agency and an invasion of personal privacy, the police utilizes facial recognition technology to reportedly increase public safety. This claim, however, fits into a larger conversation around the integration of advanced technologies in public spaces in cities.
There has also been a concern regarding the surveillance of citizens of color in UK cities since the artificial intelligence that may be integrated into facial recognition systems often fails to identify non-white individuals. And while this may be somewhat of a relief, it also leaves a large margin for inaccurate identification and intensifies an already intense process of racial profiling.
And while advanced surveillance in UK cities can potentially help police forces locate potential criminals, it is done at the expense of the privacy of your average citizen. As our cities become smarter, this notion of an omnipresent ‘Big Brother’ always watching is increasingly becoming a concern of many city dwellers around the world.