UK: Government must not adopt facial recognition for immunity passports

UK: Government must not adopt facial recognition for immunity passports -

ARTICLE 19 has responded to reports that the UK Government will use facial recognition as a way of distinguishing people that have immunity credentials from the rest of the population. 

Head of Europe and Central Asia, Sarah Clarke said:

“The use of face recognition in the creation of health passports is yet another attempt to use the coronavirus pandemic to normalise surveillance technologies that violate people’s human rights, and which the public would not accept in ordinary circumstances. 

“Facial recognition is a highly intrusive technology, which undermines the ability to be anonymous, and impacts how people behave in private and public spaces. 

“We call on the UK Government to reject these proposals, and to instead focus its attention and resources on measures and solutions that truly protect public health without violating individuals’ rights.” 

Facial recognition is a highly invasive technology that performs automatic processing of digital images which contain the faces of individuals for authentication, identification or categorisation of those individuals. This technology has a strong impact on individuals’ data protection and privacy and nullifies the right to remain anonymous; in addition, it can have a strong chilling effect on people’s freedom of expression and movement, altering their behaviours in private and public spaces. 

Facial recognition not only violates individuals’ fundamental rights, it is also an unreliable technology. Studies show that the technology strongly fails in terms of accuracy, with substantial racial biases and percentages of false matches as high as 80% of the cases. Because of this, its use by the Government to support immunity certificate systems is not necessary nor proportionate, and violates international human rights standards. 

The World Health Organisation has repeatedly warned that the concept of immunity credentials depends on the accuracy of immunity tests, which so far is highly questionable. Scientists are yet sure about whether immunity is developed by individuals who get the disease, and whether this immunity might be full and/or permanent. Therefore, the entire concept of immunity credentials is currently unfounded and states should not rely on it as grounds for the differentiated treatment of people. 

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