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South Wales Police wins facial recognition case

04/09/19

Mark Say Managing Editor

South Wales Police has successfully staved off a legal challenge against its use facial recognition technology, with the High Court ruling today that it was within the law.

Drawing of digital grid on woman's face

It comes in response to a claim made by Ed Bridges and supported by civil rights group Liberty that his human rights were breached.

The High Court ruled against the claim for a judicial review, saying the pilot in which facial recognition was used, which took place in the city centre last year, included the necessary precautions to stay within the Human Rights Act.

It involved the use of the technology in checking images against those of people on the South Wales Police watch list. Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Mr Justice Swift said in their judgement that the system was used for a limited time and specific purpose, and that unless a member of the public’s face matched one of those on the watchlist all of the data was deleted immediately after processing.

It also concluded that all processing of personal data was lawful.

Appeal planned

Liberty said that Bridges will appeal the judgement and seek a ruling that the police force’s use of the technology is unlawful.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued a statement saying it will review the judgement but repeating its disquiet about the use of facial recognition.

“This new and intrusive technology has the potential, if used without the right privacy safeguards, to undermine rather than enhance confidence in the police,” it said.

“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.”

Head of the ICO Elizabeth Denham recently expressed her concerns about the use of the technology.

Home Office backing

In July the Home Office backed police forces in running pilots, as long as they go to the Biometrics Oversight and Advisory Board in advance; but law firm Mischon de Reya predicted today it will not be the end to legal challenges.

Its data protection adviser, Jon Baines, said: “As the technology develops the potential for intrusive misuse increases - and it is important to note that police powers to use this sort of surveillance are much wider than the powers available to other organisations.

"Additionally, the information commissioner and her team continue to investigate the use of the technology and have enforcement powers which enable them to audit and fine those who misuse it."

Image by teguhjatipras, CC0

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