Police use of facial recognition technology is ‘human rights breach’
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.
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”.
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.
The court heard the force had deployed the technology on at least 40 occasions since it began trialling it May 2017, with no end date set for the trial.
South Wales Police argues its 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”.