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Cardiff man gets go-ahead to bring first UK legal challenge facial recognition tech

A Cardiff resident has been given the go-ahead to start the first legal challenge to a UK police force’s use of automated facial recognition (AFR) technology, in what will be a critical nationwide test of the state’s power to deploy radical biometric surveillance methods.

Ed Bridges – represented by human rights organisation Liberty – had threatened legal action against South Wales Police if it did not immediately end its use of AFR technology in public spaces.

Chief Constable Matt Jukes has now confirmed the force will not seek to prevent the case from taking place – paving the way for High Court to review South Wales Police’s ongoing deployment of the intrusive technology. The Chief Constable has said that South Wales Police welcomes the scrutiny of the Court on the issue.

Surveillance cameras equipped with AFR software scan the faces of passers-by, making unique biometric maps of their faces. These maps are then compared to and matched with other facial images on bespoke, often error-ridden police databases.

South Wales Police has used facial recognition in public spaces on at least 22 occasions since May 2017. Ed believes his face was scanned by South Wales Police at both a peaceful anti-arms protest and while doing his Christmas shopping.

He will seek to challenge the use of AFR technology in court because it violates the privacy rights of everyone within range of the cameras, has a chilling effect on peaceful protest, discriminates against women and BAME people, and breaches data protection laws.

Members of the public have so far donated more than £3,450 to Ed’s challenge via crowdfunding site CrowdJustice.

Ed Bridges said:

“This dystopian style of policing has no place in Cardiff or anywhere else and I am delighted this legal challenge will go ahead. Without warning the police have used this invasive technology on peaceful protesters and thousands of people going about their daily business, providing no explanation of how it works and no opportunity for us to consent.

“The police’s indiscriminate use of facial recognition technology on our streets makes our privacy rights worthless and will force us all to alter our behaviour – it needs to be challenged and it needs to stop.”

Megan Goulding, Lawyer for Liberty and solicitor for Ed Bridges, said:

“We are pleased South Wales Police has recognised the importance of this issue and agreed to a judge reviewing its actions. The police’s creeping rollout of facial recognition is not authorised by any law, guided by any official policy or scrutinised by any independent body.

“Scanning the faces of thousands of people whenever they see fit and comparing them to shady databases which can contain images sourced from anywhere at all has seriously chilling implications for our freedom.”