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Court upholds automated facial recognition

05 September 2019

The High Court of England and Wales (sitting in Cardiff) has released a judgment on the use of Automated Facial Recognition technology (AFR) by police forces.

In R v Bridges [2019] EWHC 2341 (Admin), the Court was asked to decide whether the current legal regime in the United Kingdom is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR in a free and civilized society.

The Court said counsel had informed it that it was the first time that any court in the world had considered AFR.

The South Wales Police are currently trialing AFR software with a view to rolling it out nationally. There are two projects, AFR Locate and AFR Identify.

The proceedings concerned AFR Locate which, when deployed, takes digital images of faces of members of the public from CCTV feeds and processes them in real time to extract facial biometric information. The information is then compared to information of persons on a watchlist. Watchlists include people who are wanted on warrants or are unlawfully at large or are suspected of committing crimes.

The complainant (Edward Bridges) challenged the legality of the Police’s use of AFR Locate on the grounds that its use was contrary to the requirements of the Human Rights Act 1998, Data Protection legislation and that the decision to use it had not been taken in accordance with the public sector equality duty contained in the Equality Act 2010. Mr Bridges is a civil liberties campaigner. His claim was supported by Liberty, a civil liberties membership organisation.

The High Court refused the application for judicial review on all grounds. While the use of AFR Locate did engage Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, those actions were subject to sufficient legal controls contained in primary legislation, statutory codes of practice and police policies.

In concluding that the actions were legally justified, the Court noted that on each occasion the use of AFR Locate was for a limited time and for a specific and limited purpose. Any data that did not match a person on the watchlist was deleted immediately after being processed.

On the Data Protection claims the Court concluded that the processing of personal data was lawful and met the conditions set out in the Data Protection Act 2018.

The Court was satisfied that before commencing the trial the South Wales Police had complied with the requirements of the public sector equality duty.

Last updated on the 16th September 2019