The information commissioner has expressed concern over the lack of a formal legal framework for the use of facial recognition cameras by the police. A barrister for the commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, told a court the current guidelines around automated facial recognition (AFR) technology were "ad hoc" and a clear code was needed. In a landmark case, Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff, claims South Wales police violated his privacy and data protection rights by using AFR on him when he went to buy a sandwich during his lunch break and when he attended a peaceful anti-arms demonstration. The technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them with a watchlist of images, which can include suspects, missing people or persons of interest to the police. The cameras have been used to scan faces in large crowds in public places such as streets, shopping centres, football crowds and music events such as the Notting Hill carnival.
Facial recognition cameras prevent crime, protect the public and do not breach the privacy of innocent people whose images are captured, a police force has argued. Ed Bridges, an office worker from Cardiff, claims South Wales police violated his privacy and data protection rights by using facial recognition technology on him. But Jeremy Johnson QC compared automated facial recognition (AFR) to the use of DNA to solve crimes and said it would have had little impact on Bridges. Johnson, representing the police, said: "AFR is a further technology that potentially has great utility for the prevention of crime, the apprehension of offenders and the protection of the public." The technology maps faces in a crowd and then compares them with a watch list of images, which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest to the police.
Two legal challenges have been launched against police forces in south Wales and London over their use of automated facial recognition (AFR) technology on the grounds the surveillance is unregulated and violates privacy. The claims are backed by the human rights organisations Liberty and Big Brother Watch following complaints about biometric checks at the Notting Hill carnival, on Remembrance Sunday, at demonstrations and in high streets. Liberty is supporting Ed Bridges, a Cardiff resident, who has written to the chief constable of South Wales police alleging he was tracked at a peaceful anti-arms protest and while out shopping. Big Brother Watch is working with the Green party peer Jenny Jones who has written to the home secretary, Sajid Javid, and the Metropolitan police commissioner, Cressida Dick, urging them to halt deployment of the "dangerously authoritarian" technology. If the forces do not stop using AFR systems then legal action will follow in the high court, the letters said.
The first legal battle in the UK over police use of face recognition technology will begin today. Ed Bridges has crowdfunded action against South Wales Police over claims that the use of the technology on him was an unlawful violation of privacy. He will also argue it breaches data protection and equality laws during a three-day hearing at Cardiff Civil Justice and Family Centre. Face recognition technology maps faces in a crowd then compares results with a "watch list" of images which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest. Police who have trialled the technology hope it can help tackle crime but campaigners argue it breaches privacy and civil liberty.
Automated facial recognition poses one of the greatest threats to individual freedom and should be banned from use in public spaces, according to the director of the campaign group Liberty. Martha Spurrier, a human rights lawyer, said the technology had such fundamental problems that, despite police enthusiasm for the equipment, its use on the streets should not be permitted. She said: "I don't think it should ever be used. It is one of, if not the, greatest threats to individual freedom, partly because of the intimacy of the information it takes and hands to the state without your consent, and without even your knowledge, and partly because you don't know what is done with that information." Police in England and Wales have used automated facial recognition (AFR) to scan crowds for suspected criminals in trials in city centres, at music festivals, sports events and elsewhere.