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Welsh police use of facial recog tech – it's so 'lawful', rules High Court

Claimant to appeal judgment and campaign for outright ban

South Wales Police's use of facial recognition has been found lawful by the High Court in a world-first hearing regarding the controversial technology.

Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, represented by campaign group Liberty, challenged South Wales Police at a judicial review in May after believing his face was scanned by the cameras twice during a trial of the tech.

He argued the use of facial recognition technology breached the right to privacy, data protection laws, and anti-discrimination laws.

South Wales Police has used the technology on more than 50 occasions since May 2017 and may have scanned up to 500,000 faces, said the court.

Three UK forces have used facial recognition in public spaces since June 2015: the Metropolitan, Leicestershire and South Wales police.

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Mr Justice Swift said in their introduction to the ruling (PDF): "The algorithms of the law must keep pace with new and emerging technologies. This case raises novel and important issues about the use of Automated Facial Recognition technology ('AFR') by police forces."

They said the issue is whether the current legal regime in the UK is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR "in a free and civilized society".

"At the heart of this case lies a dispute about the privacy and data protection implications of AFR. Counsel inform us that this is the first time that any court in the world had considered AFR."

However, they concluded that the current legal regime "is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate, and that SWP's use to date of AFR Locate has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act, and the data protection legislation."

Ed Bridges said he will appeal the decision as the campaign continues for an outright ban.

He said: "This sinister technology undermines our privacy and I will continue to fight against its unlawful use to ensure our rights are protected and we are free from disproportionate government surveillance."

Liberty's lawyer, Megan Goulding, said: "This disappointing judgment does not reflect the very serious threat that facial recognition poses to our rights and freedoms.

"Facial recognition is a highly intrusive surveillance technology that allows the police to monitor and track us all. It is time that the Government recognised the danger this dystopian technology presents to our democratic values and banned its use. Facial recognition has no place on our streets."

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office said it will be reviewing the judgment carefully.

"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.

"Any police forces or private organisations using these systems should be aware that existing data protection law and guidance still apply." ®

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