The use of automated facial recognition technology by police forces in the UK is lawful, High Court judges have ruled, following the first case of its kind regarding the new technology.
The landmark case was brought by human rights campaign group Liberty on behalf of Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, who believed his face was scanned by South Wales Police during a trial of the technology.
The case argued that use of the technology was breach of the right to privacy, but judges concluded that the technology met the requirements of the Human Rights Act.
Speaking in the High Court, Lord Justice Haddon-Cave said “the current legal regime is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate” – the facial recognition technology used by South Wales Police.
Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Mr Justice Swift said in their introduction to the ruling that “algorithms of the law must keep pace with new and emerging technologies. This case raises novel and important issues about the use of Automated Facial Recognition technology (‘AFR’) by police forces.”
“At the heart of this case lies a dispute about the privacy and data protection implications of AFR. Counsel inform us that this is the first time that any court in the world had considered AFR,” they wrote in the ruling.
Megan Goulding, Liberty’s lawyer, said it was a disappointing judgment, which “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,” she said.
An ICO spokesperson said the independent authority will review the judgement carefully but welcomes the court’s finding that the technology complies with the Data Protection Act 2018.
“Our investigation into the first police pilots of this technology has recently finished,” they said.
“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 [Live Facial Recognition] systems.”