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Activist reignites case against police use of facial recognition

Image credit: Chernetskaya | Dreamstime

An activist who brought one of the world’s first court challenges over police use of facial recognition technology in the UK has taken his fight to the Court of Appeal after the original case was defeated in September last year.

The challenger, 37-year-old Ed Bridges from Cardiff, brought legal action at the High Court last year after claiming his face was scanned while doing Christmas shopping in 2017 and at a peaceful anti-arms protest in 2018.

His lawyers argued the use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) by South Wales Police caused him “distress” and violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

In September last year, his case was dismissed by two leading judges, who said that the use of the technology was not unlawful. The judges, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Justice Swift concluded that they were “satisfied” the current legal regime is adequate to “ensure appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR”. The police’s use of the technology to date has also been “consistent” with human rights and data protection laws.

However, Bridges has been given permission to appeal against that ruling in November 2019, with his case currently being heard by three leading judges at the Court of Appeal in London. Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, president of the Queen’s Bench Division Dame Victoria Sharp and Lord Justice Singh have been considering his appeal from 10.30am today (23 June).

Bridges crowdfunded his legal action against the police and is supported by civil rights organisation Liberty, which is campaigning for a ban on the technology.

“Facial recognition gives the state unprecedented power to track and monitor us as we go about our daily lives,” said Megan Goulding, from Liberty, at the time Bridges announced taking the case to the Court of Appeal in November 2019. 

She added: “This technology destroys our privacy, undermines our free expression and discriminates against communities that already experience over-policing. We’re pleased the Court of Appeal has recognised the importance of these issues and we will continue to fight the use of this intrusive technology on our streets.”

Facial recognition technology maps faces in a crowd by measuring the distance between features then compares results with a “watch list” of images. This includes suspects, missing people and persons of interest.

South Wales Police began conducting a trial of the technology since 2017, with a view to it being rolled out nationally, and is considered the national lead force on its use.

Near the end of February this year, the Metropolitan Police deployed live facial-recognition cameras near Oxford Circus in London. 

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