Does Big Brother exist? Face Recognition Technology in the United Kingdom

13 Pages Posted: 23 Jan 2023

See all articles by Giulia Gentile

Giulia Gentile

London School of Economics - Law School

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 20, 2023


Face recognition technology (FRT) has achieved remarkable progress in the last decade due to the improvement of deep convolutional neural networks. The United Kingdom (UK) law enforcement sector has been remarkably à l'avant-garde in employing this technology. Smart CCTV cameras were allegedly first used in the UK, where the London Metropolitan Police Service has operated them since the 1998. More recently, it was reported that businesses in the UK have been using a FRT system known as 'Facewatch' to share CCTV images with the police and identify suspected shoplifters entering their store.

The massive deployment of FRT has unsurprisingly tested the limits of the UK's democracy: where should the line be drawn between acceptable uses of this technology for collective or private purposes, and the protection of individual entitlements that are compressed by the employment of FRT? Bridges v. South Wales Police case offered guidance on this issue. After lengthy litigation, the Court of Appeal of England and Wales ruled in favour of the applicant, a civil rights campaigner who claimed that the active FRT deployed by the police at public gatherings infringed his rights. The outcome of this case suggests that the use of FRT for law enforcement should be strictly regulated.

Although the Bridges case offered crucial directives on the balancing between individual rights and the lawful use of FRT for law enforcement purposes under the current UK rules, several ethical and legal questions still remain unsolved. This chapter sheds light on the UK approach to FRT regulation and offers a threefold contribution to existing literature. First, it provides an overview of sociological and regulatory attitudes towards this technology in the UK. Second, the chapter discusses the Bridges saga and its implications. Third, it offers reflections on the future of FRT regulation in the UK.

Keywords: facial recognition, privacy, UK, fundamental rights

JEL Classification: K23

Suggested Citation

Gentile, Giulia, Does Big Brother exist? Face Recognition Technology in the United Kingdom (January 20, 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Giulia Gentile (Contact Author)

London School of Economics - Law School ( email )

Houghton Street
London WC2A 2AE, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

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