Police Use Of Facial Recognition Technology Is "A Bit Ad Hoc" Court Hears

23 May 2019, 17:17

Police have deployed the controversial technology across the UK
Police have deployed the controversial technology across the UK. Picture: PA

Police are making up their own rules when it comes to facial recognition technology, a court has heard.

The landmark legal challenge issued by Ed Bridges from Cardiff who claims South Wales police violated his privacy and data protection rights.

Mr Bridges claimed the police used the technology on him when he went to buy a sandwich on during his lunch break and when he attended a peaceful anti-arms demonstration.

Mr Bridges said the incident caused him "distress."

Jeremy Johnson QC, for South Wales Police , said the force’s use was justified as it deterred people from carrying out crime, and information of a person’s face is not stored unless police already have the image of a known individual in their "watchlist."

A barrister for the Information Commissioner said that a legal framework should be drawn up for use of the technology, saying there was a lack of clarity on how the force compiled its watchlist of individuals, and in what circumstances it should be deployed.

Police in London have trailed the technology.
Police in London have trailed the technology. Picture: PA

The Minority Report-style technology scans all the faces in a crowd and then compares them against a database of images, which can include suspects, missing people or persons of interest to the police. 

The controversial cameras have been used by police to scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres, football crowds and music events such as the Notting Hill carnival.

Mr Facenna said: "There is serious doubt whether the legal framework is sufficient.

"It's all a bit ad hoc. There's nothing sufficiently precise and specific."

Mr Facenna also questioned whether people should be able to refuse to be scanned in public after a man was fined for disorderly conduct after covering his face while passing a police van during a Metropolitan Police trial in London.

Dan Squires QC, representing Mr Bridges, told the final day of the hearing at the Administrative Court in Cardiff that AFR had given the police "extraordinary power", and said there were questions over whether there was sufficient legal protection against the "arbitrary and disproportionate use" of the scanning technology by police.

He said: "The police say that information is not retained for those not on their watch list.

"But it is not a legal requirement.

"The risk is if AFR can be used routinely across cities through CCTV cameras.

"The way South Wales Police have operated to date has been responsible and limited. But none of that comes from the law. That comes from self-restraint.

"Our submission is there should be a code of conduct."

The Right Honourable Lord Justice Haddon-Cave adjourned judgment for a later date, thanking parties for their submissions on "novel and potentially far-ranging issues".