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High Court hears legal challenge to police use of automated facial recognition

The High Court, sitting in Cardiff, is this week hearing the first challenge to the use of automated facial recognition by UK police.

The technology extracts unique facial biometric data from live footage of individuals passing CCTV cameras and compares this to a “watch list” of images. It is deployed in public places with large crowds.

South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition has been funded by the Home Office.

The claimant, Ed Bridges, is being advised by Dan Squires QC and Aidan Wills of Matrix Chambers, instructed by human rights campaign group Liberty.

Mr Bridges will argued that the use of the technology by South Wales Police breaches his privacy and data protection rights because:

  • it lacks a proper legal basis;
  • there are insufficient safeguards; and
  • its use is disproportionate.

The claim is also said to raise issues as to whether the police discharged its obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to interrogate potential racial and gender biases in the application of the technology.

Liberty said thousands of people had been scanned without their knowledge or consent, including at events such as the Champions League Final in 2017 and Six Nations rugby matches, and music events such as Ed Sheeran concerts.

It said Mr Bridges believed his face was scanned by South Wales Police at both a peaceful anti-arms protest and while doing his Christmas shopping.

Liberty argued that there is no legal framework governing the use of the technology “which violates the privacy of everyone within range of the cameras and evidence has shown that it discriminates against women and BAME people”.

Megan Goulding, lawyer at Liberty, said: “Facial recognition technology snatches our biometric data without our knowledge or consent, making a mockery of our right to privacy. It is discriminatory and takes us another step towards being routinely monitored wherever we go, fundamentally altering our relationship with state powers and changing public spaces. It belongs to a police state and has no place on our streets.”