British activist to appeal 'sinister' police facial recognition

by Umberto Bacchi | @UmbertoBacchi | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 4 September 2019 16:33 GMT

Soccer Football - Europa League Play Off First Leg - Celtic v AIK - Celtic Park, Glasgow, Britain - August 22, 2019 General view of police outside the stadium before the match Action Images via Reuters/Craig Brough

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The campaigner had argued that police breached his human rights by scanning his face without consent in what judges said was the first of its kind worldwide

LONDON, Sept 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Privacy campaigners in Britain said on Wednesday they would appeal a landmark ruling that endorsed "sinister" police use of facial recognition technology to hunt for suspects.

The High Court in Wales dismissed a legal challenge by Ed Bridges, a resident of the Welsh capital of Cardiff, who had argued that local police breached his human rights by scanning his face without consent.

Judges said the case was the first of its kind worldwide.

Civil rights group Liberty, which represented Bridges, said it would appeal the "disappointing" decision.

"This sinister technology undermines our privacy and I will continue to fight against its unlawful use to ensure our rights are protected and we are free from disproportionate government surveillance," Bridges said in a statement.

From malls to airports, facial recognition is increasingly pervasive worldwide, raising fears over privacy.

In August, Britain's data protection watchdog said it was "deeply concerned" about the technology after it emerged that surveillance cameras had been used at museums, shopping centres and other properties.

South Wales Police was the first British force to adopt the technology, pioneering its use in 2017.

The force has deployed cameras to check passersby against a database of offenders at dozens of locations, including football matches and rock concerts, according to its website.

An identified suspect can be stopped on the spot, while others are not identified and their data is discarded, it said.

Bridges, a 36-year-old civil rights campaigner, said his face was scanned at an anti-arms protest and on a second occasion when he was Christmas shopping.

At a hearing in May, his legal team argued that recording people's faces without consent or grounds for suspicion violated rights to privacy, as well as equality and data protection laws.

But the judges said the force's use of the technology was lawful and legally justified, noting deployment were limited in scope and time.

"I recognise that the use of artificial intelligence and face-matching technologies around the world is of great interest and at times, concern," chief constable Matt Jukes said in a statement.

"With the benefit of this judgment, we will continue to explore how to ensure the ongoing fairness and transparency of our approach."

Computers have become adept at identifying people by matching a scan of their facial features against a photograph, but critics say the technology is still prone to errors and could lead to excessive surveillance.

(Reporting by Umberto Bacchi @UmbertoBacchi, Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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