ICO launches emergency Kings X facial recognition probe

UK’s privacy watchdog says reports of use of live facial recognition technology in the London King’s Cross by private developer Argent needs to be explained

Posted 19 August 2019 by Gary Flood

The Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, says news reports that live use is being made of facial recognition technology round the Kings X (Cross) area of central London will be investigated by her organisation as a priority.

“We have launched an investigation following concerns reported in the media regarding the use of live facial recognition in the King’s Cross area of central London, which thousands of people pass through every day,” she stated in a post made on the ICO’s website Friday.

“As well as requiring detailed information from the relevant organisations about how the technology is used, we will also inspect the system and its operation on-site to assess whether or not it complies with data protection law.”

Denham and her team came out swinging only days after The Financial Times published a story (behind the FT paywall) last week that a live face-scanning system was being used across the 67-acre (0.3-sq-km) site around King’s Cross station in London.

The newspaper contacted the supplier behind the implementation, a property developer called Argent that said it was using the technology to “ensure public safety” and it was just one of “a number of detection and tracking methods” in place at the site.

The ICO isn’t the only one who wants to know more – the BBC reports that the company had not responded to a request for comment by it, while also reporting that The Mayor of London also wants to know about this use of facial-recognition systems, saying that Sadiq Khan had written to the company noting “serious and widespread concern” about the legality of facial recognition being used this way in his city.

“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,” Denhams’s statement concludes.

“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.”

Argent is leading the on-going 20-year multi-billion pound regeneration of King’s Cross on behalf of the King’s Cross Central Limited Partnership (KCCLP), which has been celebrated as one of London’s regeneration success stories and widely lauded as an exemplar of urban development and placemaking.

So far, this work has supported over 10,000 jobs to date and in excess of £600m in added value to the economy per year, according to one independent study, which also claimed £3bn has been invested in construction on the site since work began in earnest in 2008, supporting 1,300 jobs.