Liberty client takes on police in ground-breaking facial recognition challenge – hearing opens today

21 May 2019

  • Three-day hearing for UK’s first challenge to new surveillance tech opens today in Cardiff High Court
  • Liberty’s client, a Cardiff resident, takes on the force leading UK deployment of facial recognition

The police’s use of live facial recognition will be challenged in the UK courts for the first time today as Liberty’s client takes on South Wales Police.

South Wales Police has been at the forefront of using the technology, and were funded by the Home Office to do so. It has used facial recognition in public spaces on over 50 occasions since May 2017. Thousands of people have been scanned without their knowledge or consent, including at high profile sporting events such as the Champions League Final in 2017 and Six Nations rugby matches, and music events such as Ed Sheeran concerts. It has come to be used routinely as part of South Wales Police’s everyday policing.

Liberty’s client, Ed Bridges, believes his face was scanned by South Wales Police at both a peaceful anti-arms protest and while doing his Christmas shopping.

Facial recognition cameras scan the faces of all passers-by, taking their unique biometric data. This is akin to taking their DNA or fingerprints without their knowledge or consent.

There is no legal framework governing the use of this technology which violates the privacy of everyone within range of the cameras and evidence has shown that it discriminates against women and BAME people.

Ed Bridges said: “The police started using this technology against me and thousands of other people in my area without warning or consultation. It’s hard to see how the police could possibly justify such a disproportionate use of such an intrusive surveillance tool like this, and we hope that the court will agree with us that unlawful use of facial recognition must end, and our rights must be respected.”

Megan Goulding, lawyer at Liberty, said: “Facial recognition technology snatches our biometric data without our knowledge or consent, making a mockery of our right to privacy. It is discriminatory and takes us another step towards being routinely monitored wherever we go, fundamentally altering our relationship with state powers and changing public spaces. It belongs to a police state and has no place on our streets.”

Surveillance cameras equipped with facial recognition 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 watch-lists. There are no rules about where watch-list images come from – the police haven’t ruled out social media. We know they are not just looking for suspected offenders, they have in the past created a watch-list of people with mental health conditions

The case

Ed Bridges is taking legal action against South Wales Police because its use of AFR technology breaches:

  • Our right to privacy
  • Equality laws
  • Data protection laws

It indiscriminately scans, maps and checks the identity of every person within the camera’s range, capturing personal biometric data without consent – and can lead to innocent people being stopped and questioned by police.

Studies have shown facial recognition disproportionately misidentifies women and BAME people, meaning they are more likely to be wrongly stopped and questioned by police. By using a technology they know to be discriminatory, the police have breached their duties under equality laws.

Dan Squires and Aidan Wills of Matrix Chambers are instructed by Liberty on behalf of Ed Bridges.