King’s Cross developers halt use of facial recognition technology

King’s Cross developers halt use of facial recognition technology
Legal

The developers behind London’s King’s Cross Central project have halted controversial plans to reimplement facial recognition technology at the site, they said in a statement on Monday.

Last month, the developer revealed that its cameras “use a number of detection and tracking methods, including facial recognition.”

It was among the first property-owners to admit using the technology, and alongside other revelations, the admission sparked a widespread public backlash to the use of facial recognition. London Mayor Sadiq Kahn sent the developer a letter asking whether it believed the use of the technology was legal. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) began an investigation, and has yet to publish its findings.

Critics argue that facial recognition technology violates privacy rights by collecting and processing data on individuals without their consent. The mixed-use King’s Cross site includes shops, offices, and a university, as well as Google’s headquarters.

On Monday, the developer noted the ongoing public debate and said that it was scrapping plans to deploy the technology “in the meantime,” suggesting it may keep the door open to its use in the future. It also said the use of facial recognition had been more limited than it had appeared from its initial statement, including just two cameras on the busy King’s Boulevard.

It its earlier response to Kahn’s letter on August 14th, the developer had said it was in the process of installing an upgraded system that would remain inactive unless it recognized “a small number of ‘flagged’ individuals (for example, individuals who have committed an offence on the estate or high risk-missing persons).”

“At this point, all other faces are automatically blurred out when the footage is played back or captured. The system does not does not store the facial images of others.”

However, the ICO has said that even if faces are ultimately blurred out, any technology that checks faces against a database is effectively processing personal data.

In the letter to Kahn, they also said they had been audited by an independent company to ensure its use was compliant with the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), strict privacy regulations which came into effect last year which set clear limitations on the processing of personal data.

The two cameras on King’s Boulevard were operational between 2016 and March of 2018.

In the new statement on Monday, the developer said they had “since undertaken work on the potential introduction of new FRT, but this work has stopped.”

They also claimed in the statement that the technology was “used only to help the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police prevent and detect crime.” However, both organizations have since said they did not have a partnership with the King’s Cross project. 

The site is being developed by the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership, backed by the property group Argent. 

According to Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham:

“Facial recognition technology is a priority area for the ICO and, when necessary, we will not hesitate to use our investigative and enforcement powers to protect people’s legal rights.”

Photo by Crookesmoor [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

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