Police use of facial recognition is legal, High Court rules

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The High Court has ruled it is legal for police to use facial recognition technology after a crowdfunded challenge against the practice.

Ed Bridges, 36, brought a case against South Wales Police after claiming the force had caused him “distress” and violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

He said his face was scanned while out Christmas shopping in 2017 and again at a peaceful anti-arms protest in 2018, and was backed by the human rights group Liberty in a first-of-its-kind legal challenge.

Ed Bridges' image was captured in Cardiff
Image: Ed Bridges’ image was captured in Cardiff

But the case has been dismissed by the High Court, which ruled police had acted legally in its use of the tech – known in this instance as AFR Locate.

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said: “We are satisfied both that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate, and that South Wales Police’s use to date of AFR Locate has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the data protection legislation.”

Liberty lawyer Megan Goulding described the judgement as “disappointing” – and said it did not reflect the “very serious threat that facial recognition poses to our rights and freedoms”.

She said the technology is “highly intrusive”, adding: “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.”

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Mr Bridges, from Cardiff, said he planned to appeal the decision.

He added: “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.”

The Information Commissioners’ Office said it would be reviewing the judgement, as the use of the technology had the potential to “undermine rather than enhance confidence in the police”.

South Wales Police has downplayed such concerns, hailing its AFR Locate system as “innovative”.

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Police use of facial recognition is legal, High Court rules

The High Court has ruled it is legal for police to use facial recognition technology after a crowdfunded challenge against the practice. Ed Bridges, 36, brought a case against South Wales Police after claiming the force had caused him “distress” and violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

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