High Court rules in favour of South Wales Police
An activist from Cardiff has lost the world's first legal challenge over police use of facial recognition technology.
Ed Bridges says his face was scanned while Christmas shopping in 2017, and at a peaceful anti-arms protest the following year.
The 36-year-old claimed the technology used by South Wales Police caused him "distress" and violated his privacy, but the High Court's ruled it wasn't unlawful.
Chief Constable Matt Jukes said: “This is innovative work that has put South Wales Police at the front of the development of this technology and the debate that surrounds it.
“We have always wrapped some good, common-sense decision-making by experienced police officers around the systems. But we’ve also underpinned this with careful legal work and the involvement of a range of bodies, including our own Police and Crime Commissioner and Ethics Committee.
“I recognise that the use of AI and face-matching technologies around the world is of great interest and at times, concern. So, I’m pleased that the court has recognised the responsibility that South Wales Police has shown in our programme. With the benefit of this judgment, we will continue to explore how to ensure the ongoing fairness and transparency of our approach.
“There is, and should be, a political and public debate about wider questions of privacy and security. It would be wrong in principle for the police to set the bounds of our use of new technology for ourselves.
“So, this decision is welcome but of course, not the end of the wider debate. I hope policing will be supported by that continuing in an informed way with bodies such as Liberty who brought this action and Government each playing their valuable role.”
South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael said: “My priority has been to ensure that South Wales Police make best use of technology to keep the public safe while also working within the law and protecting civil liberties - and I believe that has been achieved as a result of constant discussion and careful scrutiny.
“Rather than resisting interest and debate we have invited people to see what is being done and we actually welcomed the application for Judicial Review by Liberty as providing an additional and formal level of scrutiny over and above what had already been undertaken by myself and my team, by our Joint Ethics Committee and by the outside agencies and the three statutory Commissioners who have all taken an interest in these deployments. It is absolutely crucial for all ethical and social concerns to be taken fully into account, and that is a key part of my role as Police and Crime Commissioner.
“I am therefore pleased that the judgement of the court today makes it clear that the use of this technology by South Wales Police is legitimate, but the court is concerned only whether the use is legal. In addition to that reassurance is the robust systems of scrutiny and challenge that I have put in place. This reassures the public that we are getting that balance right between protecting people’s rights and keeping the public safe, and has been welcomed by the Chief Constable.
“Preventing crime and supporting safe, confident, resilient communities is the first responsibility of the police but this has become increasingly difficult because a third has been cut from the Police Grant in recent years. That has made it essential to use innovation and embrace technology like Facial Recognition if we are to have any hope of maintaining police numbers in our local communities across South Wales.
“The conclusion of the Judicial Review process will not mark the end the public debate and nor should it. Indeed I want to make sure that the debate is well informed with an intelligent balance between keeping people safe and protecting their civil liberties. I’m determined that we will stick to that balance and continue with the open and transparent approach that has been recognised by the court.”