THE USE of facial recognition by South Wales Police has been deemed lawful in a ruling on Wednesday by the High Court in London following a judicial review.
Civil rights group Liberty and local Cardiff resident Ed Bridges had challenged the deployment of facial recognition in the first legal challenge to UK police use of facial recognition technology. It was first used by South Wales Police in a trial during the Champions League Final at Cardiff's Millennium Stadium in June 2017.
In total, South Wales Police is believed to have scanned the faces of more than 500,000 members of the public. Bridges claimed that he had been scanned at least twice - on Queen Street in Cardiff in December 2017 and at a protest against the arms trade in March 2018.
Metropolitan Police has also trialled facial recognition, with less than convincing results.
Liberty had claimed in court that facial recognition systems were little different from police fingerprinting or obtaining DNA, around which tight legal safeguards exist. However, the court ruled that while facial recognition might infringe upon people's privacy rights it wasn't unlawful per se.
The court declared that the current legal framework governing facial recognition is adequate, but ought to be subject to periodic review. Liberty, though, is campaigning for a complete ban on what it describes as an "authoritarian surveillance tool".
Liberty 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."
Police use of facial recognition, Liberty added, involves the processing of sensitive, personal data of everyone who is scanned, not just those on a watchlist. The organisation has vowed to appeal.
South Wales Police typically use facial recognition in cameras attached to vans. These take scans of people's faces, making a biometric map of the face which is then run against a database of facial biometric maps. When a positive match is made, the image is flagged for a manual review. UK police have around 20 million mugshots in various databases.
South Wales Police is also planning to put the technology onto police mobile phones, which will make its use even more widespread. µ
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