South Wales Police’s facial recognition use deemed lawful
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:

The High Court in Cardiff has found that the use of facial recognition by South Wales Police (SWP) is currently lawful, in response to a claim for judicial review in May that was brought by Ed Bridges, a Cardiff resident who believes his face was scanned twice by cameras that were part of SWP’s ongoing facial recognition trial project.

Liberty argued that South Wales Police’s use of facial recognition technology breached the right to privacy, data protection laws, and anti-discrimination laws, but the court refused the application on all grounds.

In its judgement the court stated: “We are satisfied both that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate [the facial recognition using being trialled by SWP], 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.” Bridges will appeal the judgment. The system used by SWP was unable to unable to recognise someone unless they were already on a watchlist.

An spokesperson for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), an independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest said: “We 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. This new and intrusive technology has the potential, if used without the right privacy safeguards, to undermine rather than enhance confidence in the police.

“Our investigation into the first police pilots of this technology has recently finished. We will now consider the court’s findings in finalising our recommendations and guidance to police forces about how to plan, authorise and deploy any future LFR systems.

“In the meantime, any police forces or private organisations using these systems should be aware that existing data protection law and guidance still apply.”

South Wales police and crime commissioner Alun Michael said: “…Rather than resisting interest and debate we have invited people to see what is being done and we actually welcomed the application for Judicial Review by Liberty as providing an additional and formal level of scrutiny over and above what had already been undertaken by myself and my team, by our Joint Ethics Committee and by the outside agencies and the three statutory Commissioners who have all taken an interest in these deployments…

“I am therefore pleased that the judgement of the court today makes it clear that the use of this technology by South Wales Police is legitimate, but the court is concerned only whether the use is legal. In addition to that reassurance is the robust systems of scrutiny and challenge that I have put in place. This reassures the public that we are getting that balance right between protecting people’s rights and keeping the public safe, and has been welcomed by the Chief Constable.

“Preventing crime and supporting safe, confident, resilient communities is the first responsibility of the police but this has become increasingly difficult because a third has been cut from the Police Grant in recent years. That has made it essential to use innovation and embrace technology like Facial Recognition if we are to have any hope of maintaining police numbers in our local communities across South Wales….”

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