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Police use of facial recognition technology is ‘human rights breach’

Activist Ed Bridges says his privacy was violated when his image was processed during a Christmas shopping trip in Cardiff.

Undated handout of Ed Bridges. The first legal battle over police use of facial recognition technology will be heard at the Cardiff Civil Justice and Family Centre in Wales on Tuesday. Bridges has crowdfunded action against South Wales Police over claims the use of the technology on him was an unlawful violation of privacy.
Undated handout of Ed Bridges. The first legal battle over police use of facial recognition technology will be heard at the Cardiff Civil Justice and Family Centre in Wales on Tuesday. Bridges has crowdfunded action against South Wales Police over claims the use of the technology on him was an unlawful violation of privacy.

The use of facial recognition technology by the police is a breach of human rights law, a court has heard.

Lawyers representing an activist claim South Wales Police violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

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The use of facial recognition technology by police is being challenged (PA/Brian Lawless)

The landmark judicial review is the first ever legal challenge against the use of Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR).

South Wales Police has been using the technology since 2017 and is considered the national lead force on its use.

Facial recognition technology maps faces in a crowd by measuring the distance between facial features then compares results with a “watch list” of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest.

Ed Bridges, 36, from Cardiff, crowdfunded his action against the force after claiming his face was scanned while doing Christmas shopping in 2017 and at a peaceful anti-arms protest in 2018.

He says the use of the technology caused him “distress”.

It has profound consequences for privacy Dan Squires QC

On Tuesday Dan Squires QC, representing Mr Bridges, told the Administrative Court in Cardiff the technology allowed the police to “monitor people’s activity in public in a way they have never been able to do before”, without having to gain consent or use force.

He said: “The reason AFR represents such a step change is you are able to capture almost instantaneously the biometric data of thousands of people.

“It has profound consequences for privacy and data protection rights, and the legal framework which currently applies to the use of AFR by the police does not ensure those rights are sufficiently protected.”

Mr Squires said that Mr Bridges had a reasonable expectation that his face would not be scanned in a public space and processed without his consent while he was not suspected of wrongdoing, and that doing so had violated Article 8 of the Human Rights Act – respect for privacy – as well as the Data Protection Act.

Mr Squires said: “Our submission is a member of the public and our client has a reasonable expectation their biometric data will not be taken unless it is necessary.”

Mr Squires said there was no statutory power which permitted South Wales Police to perform large-scale processing of people’s data without their consent.

He suggested a code of conduct be drawn up which could be used to regulate how the police use AFR.

The court heard the force had deployed the technology at least 40 times since it began trialling it May 2017, with no end date set.

South Wales Police argue that use of AFR does not infringe the privacy or data protection rights of Mr Bridges as it is used in the same way as photographing a person’s activities in public, and it does not retain the data of those not on its watch list.

But it does keep CCTV images from the scanning process for up to 31 days.

On Wednesday Jeremy Johnson QC, representing South Wales Police, will set out the force’s response to the case.

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