Police use of facial recognition did violate privacy and data protection rules

11 August 2020, 11:02

South Wales Police used the technology
South Wales Police used the technology. Picture: South Wales Police
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

The use of facial recognition technology by police did interfere with privacy and data protection laws, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Civil rights campaigner Ed Bridges, 37, who had his face scanned while he was Christmas shopping in Cardiff in 2017 and at a peaceful anti-arms protest outside the city's Motorpoint Arena in 2018, brought a claim arguing the use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) by South Wales Police caused him "distress".

The activist took his case - believed to be the world's first over police use of such technology - to the Court of Appeal on five grounds, after his case was previously rejected by the High Court.

In Tuesday's ruling, the Court of Appeal allowed Mr Bridges' appeal on three grounds, but found against him on two.

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In a statement, civil rights campaigner Ed Bridges said: "I'm delighted that the court has agreed that facial recognition clearly threatens our rights.

"This technology is an intrusive and discriminatory mass surveillance tool.

"For three years now South Wales Police has been using it against hundreds of thousands of us, without our consent and often without our knowledge. We should all be able to use our public spaces without being subjected to oppressive surveillance."

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Matt Jukes, chief constable of South Wales Police, said: "The test of our ground-breaking use of this technology by the courts has been a welcome and important step in its development. I am confident this is a judgment that we can work with.

"Our priority remains protecting the public and that goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to ensuring they can see we are using new technology in ways that are responsible and fair.

"After our approach to these issues was initially endorsed by the divisional court and now that the Court of Appeal has given further scrutiny on specific points, we will give their findings serious attention.

"The Court of Appeal's judgment helpfully points to a limited number of policy areas that require this attention.

"Our policies have already evolved since the trials in 2017 and 2018 were considered by the courts, and we are now in discussions with the Home Office and Surveillance Camera Commissioner about the further adjustments we should make and any other interventions that are required."