UK court finds police face recognition breached privacy
19 August 2020 16:57 GMT

UK rights organisation Liberty says it has won a legal challenge against police use of oppressive facial recognition technology.

In a judgment handed down on August 11, the Court of Appeal found South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition technology breaches privacy rights, data protection laws and equality laws.

The judgment means the police force leading the use of facial recognition on UK streets must halt its long-running trial.

The Court held that there were “fundamental deficiencies” in the legal framework and that Ed Bridges’ rights were breached as a result.

The ruling also states that: “The fact remains, however, that SWP have never sought to satisfy themselves, either directly or by way of independent verification, that the software program in this case does not have an unacceptable bias on grounds of race or sex.”

In 2019, Bridges brought a legal challenge after he saw a police van marked with AFR cameras as he took a lunch break in Cardiff city centre and then again at a peaceful protest at an arms fair in the city. He argued the AFR system analysed his biometric data - digital mapping of a person's facial features - without his knowledge or consent.

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.”

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding said: “This judgment is a major victory in the fight against discriminatory and oppressive facial recognition.

“The Court has agreed that this dystopian surveillance tool violates our rights and threatens our liberties. Facial recognition discriminates against people of colour, and it is absolutely right that the Court found that South Wales Police had failed in their duty to investigate and avoid discrimination.

In September 2019, the High Court found that South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition is not unlawful, but that facial recognition interferes with the privacy rights of everyone scanned by a camera, and 500,000 people may have been scanned (by May 2019) by South Wales Police.

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