More controversy is developing in the UK, this time in Scotland, around the use by law enforcement of cameras equipped with live facial recognition technology.

Reports say that the police in Scotland may intend to start using this tech to catch shoplifters and persons who break bail conditions. But civil rights group Big Brother Watch is warning against any kind of deployment of live facial recognition as incompatible with democracy – primarily because it indiscriminately jeopardizes the privacy of millions of people.

To make sure this is not happening, the non-profit’s head of research Jake Hurfurt has told the press that the tech should be banned.

That would be an improvement also from the point of view of legal clarity around how AI and big data are used by law enforcement; since currently, Hurfurt remarked, the government and the police “cobble together patchwork legal justifications to experiment on the public with intrusive and Orwellian technology.”

Big Brother Watch offered another observation – the UK is a rare country outside of China and Russia (apparently, even the EU is “scaling back”) that is ramping up this type of surveillance.

The previous heated debate over live face recognition had to do with the London police, and at the moment, the Met’s decision to deploy it – besides being “a multi-million pound mistake,” is also facing a legal challenge, the group said.

They are hopeful this might serve as a teachable moment for the police in Scotland and dissuade them from repeating the same costly “experiment” of trying to usher in a “hi-tech police state.”

Meanwhile, press reports in the UK are confirming that Scotland police are considering using the technology, which works by trying to match images of people recorded by surveillance cameras with existing police databases.

The problem with using this as a method of policing in crowded streets is that it turns every citizen who happens to pass by one of the cameras into a justified – as far as the authorities are concerned – target, as a “potential suspect.”

And, the target may be shoplifters today – but who knows who might be another, if, as Big Brother fears, “we’re sleepwalking into a high-tech police state.”

The fear that Scotland may be on the way toward introducing live facial recognition as a police tool originates from a Scottish Police Authority conference on biometrics, where Assistant Chief Constable Andy Freeburn said:

“I think we do need to get into the difficult and potentially divisive topic of live facial recognition technology; we need to look at the limits of AI – and I hope that today is the first step in a wider debate.”