Data Driven Futures

Police facial recognition tech ruled legal

Written by Hannah McGrath

The High Court has thrown out a bid to block the use of facial recognition by police in South Wales in a landmark ruling.

The court yesterday ruled in favour of South Wales Police to allow continued use of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) after data privacy campaigner Ed Bridges launched a judicial review against the practice.

Bridges, who was represented by advocacy campaign body Liberty, argued that the use of the technology in live CCTV streaming in order to identify suspects on a police watchlist infringed the rights of the crowds of civilians who were scanned by the cameras.

The court found that South Wales Police had a lawful basis for using the system, which was matched with a watchlist and alert system for persons of interest, suspect and missing people, but acknowledged that the system does interfere with the privacy rights of those captured by the CCTV stream.

Bridges plans to appeal the judgement.

The decision, which sets a legal landmark for police use of facial recognition technology, came as it emerged that the Metropolitan Police had participated in the roll out of the software in CCTV cameras around King’s Cross in London.

In a statement earlier this week, the King’s Cross development, which runs the 67-acre site, confirmed that the controversial technology had been in use between 2016 and 2018, but said it had no plans to reintroduce the software in future.

The move came after the Information Commissioner’s Office announced it would investigate the development’s use of facial recognition software.

Commenting on the High Court ruling, a spokesperson for the ICO said: “We welcome the court’s finding that the police use of Live Facial Recognition (LFR) systems involves the processing of sensitive personal data of members of the public, requiring compliance with the Data Protection Act 2018.

“This new and intrusive technology has the potential, if used without the right privacy safeguards, to undermine rather than enhance confidence in the police.”