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 brought a legal challenge against South Wales Police arguing their use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) had caused him “distress”.
He 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.
In a ruling on Tuesday, three Court of Appeal judges ruled the force’s use of AFR was unlawful, allowing Bridges’ appeal on three out of five grounds he raised in his case.
In the judgment, the judges said that there was no clear guidance on where AFR Locate – the system being trialled by South Wales Police – could be used and who could be put on a watchlist.
It ruled that “too much discretion is currently left to individual police officers”.
The court also found that a data protection impact assessment of the scheme was deficient and that the force had not done all they could to verify that the AFR software “does not have an unacceptable bias on grounds of race or sex”.
The judgment notes that there was no clear evidence that the software was biased on grounds of race or sex.
Bridges took his case – believed to be the world’s first over police use of such technology – to the Court of Appeal after his case was previously rejected by the High Court.
In a statement after the ruling, Bridges said he was “delighted” the court has found that “facial recognition clearly threatens our rights”.
South Wales Police said the test of their “ground-breaking use of this technology” by the courts had been a “welcome and important step in its development”.
At a three-day Court of Appeal hearing in June, lawyers for Bridges argued the facial recognition technology interferes with privacy and data protection laws and is potentially discriminatory.
They said the technology, which is being trialled by the force with a view to rolling it out nationally, is used to live capture the facial biometrics of large numbers of people and compare them with people on a “watchlist”.
The force does not retain the facial biometric data of anyone whose image is captured on CCTV but doesn’t generate a match, the court heard.
AFR technology maps faces in a crowd by measuring the distance between features then compares results with a “watchlist” of images – which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest.
South Wales Police has been conducting a trial of the technology since 2017.
We need your help to keep speaking the truth
Every story that you have come to us with; each injustice you have asked us to investigate; every campaign we have fought; each of your unheard voices we amplified; we do this for you. We are making a difference on your behalf.
Our fight is your fight. You’ve supported our collective struggle every time you gave us a like; and every time you shared our work across social media. Now we need you to support us with a monthly donation.
We have published nearly 2,000 articles and over 50 films in 2021. And we want to do this and more in 2022 but we don’t have enough money to go on at this pace. So, if you value our work and want us to continue then please join us and be part of The Canary family.
In return, you get:
* Advert free reading experience
* Quarterly group video call with the Editor-in-Chief
* Behind the scenes monthly e-newsletter
* 20% discount in our shop
Almost all of our spending goes to the people who make The Canary’s content. So your contribution directly supports our writers and enables us to continue to do what we do: speaking truth, powered by you. We have weathered many attempts to shut us down and silence our vital opposition to an increasingly fascist government and right-wing mainstream media.
With your help we can continue:
* Holding political and state power to account
* Advocating for the people the system marginalises
* Being a media outlet that upholds the highest standards
* Campaigning on the issues others won’t
* Putting your lives central to everything we do
We are a drop of truth in an ocean of deceit. But we can’t do this without your support. So please, can you help us continue the fight?