Traffic cameras in Leeds city centre cannot ‘capture faces’

6 April 2023
What was claimed

Traffic cameras in Leeds city centre “capture faces”.

Our verdict

This is not true. The sensors do not capture faces but can distinguish between types of road users, including buses, cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

A video posted on Facebook claims that Leeds city centre now has traffic cameras that “capture faces”. 

But a spokesperson for Leeds City Council confirmed that this is not true. 

The video, which has 5,000 shares on Facebook and originally appeared on TikTok, shows footage of streets in Leeds city centre. Text on top of the video says: “15 minute cities are coming”. 

The “15 minute city” refers to an urban planning concept where all necessary amenities are within a 15 minute walk or cycle of people’s homes. 

Full Fact has previously written about many false claims that relate to 15 minute cites as part of our work countering misinformation online.

We have also fact checked claims relating to personal data, including that Asda self-service checkouts use facial recognition for targeted ads and that the government’s new emergency alerts will match phones to venue check-in data collected during the pandemic. 

False claims like these can cause people to feel unnecessarily unsafe going about daily activities, have disproportionate distrust for authority and negatively impact their lives. 

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Traffic cameras do not ‘capture faces’

The woman filming the video claims: “If you look, they’ve changed all the traffic lights, and there’s cameras on every top of the traffic lights, they face downwards as well so they capture your face. [sic]

“...Every lamp post has got the camera, again, they face forward and down. They have scanners on them. So they capture people as they cross the road, their faces.”

A spokesperson for Leeds City Council told Full Fact that the cameras “do not ‘capture faces’”. 

The spokesperson said that the cameras are “traffic signal sensors” that are used to “optimise signal operation.” This refers to operating the signals at traffic lights to reduce congestion and manage flow.  

So, while the cameras do not capture faces, the spokesperson said they “do recognise what type of object is in the field of view”, such as a bus, car, pedestrian or cyclist. This allows “sustainable travel modes to be prioritised”. 

The council’s website explains that the camera sensors in Leeds use an image to collect “anonymised road user data”. The image is “destroyed” within one second of being processed and is not shared with any third parties. 

The sensors are designed to prioritise the movement of pedestrians, rather than vehicles. 

It says: “The sensors are designed to analyse traffic patterns as a whole and not an individual's particular journey.”

Image courtesy of Ian S

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