U.K. Cops Lose Challenge to Facial Recognition Technology
A traveler wearing a protective face mask passes a CCTV camera and information monitors at the Eurostar International Ltd. train terminal in Paris, France. (Photographer: Adrienne Surprenant/Bloomberg)

U.K. Cops Lose Challenge to Facial Recognition Technology

Police in the U.K. breached human rights and data-protection laws when deploying facial recognition technology, a London court ruled in the first case of its kind.

South Wales Police “never sought to satisfy themselves, either directly or by way of independent verification, that the software program in this case does not have an unacceptable bias on grounds of race or sex,” the Court of Appeal said on Tuesday.

Ed Bridges, 37, supported by campaign group Liberty, brought the case after complaining of being scanned first on a street in 2017 and again when he was at a protest in 2018. It’s the world’s first legal challenge to police use of the technology, Liberty said in a statement.

“The court has agreed that this dystopian surveillance tool violates our rights and threatens our liberties,” said Liberty lawyer, Megan Goulding. “Facial recognition discriminates against people of color.”

Facial Recognition Sparks Privacy Concerns at U.K. Watchdog

Deputy Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan, who has a national role on the development and use of facial recognition by police, said the aim of the technology is to keep the public safe.

“This judgment will only strengthen the work which is already underway to ensure that the operational policies we have in place can withstand robust legal challenge and public scrutiny,” he said in a statement posted on the police force’s website.

The South Wales force added that it won’t challenge the ruling and is now in discussions with the U.K. government’s Home Office about further adjustments that should be made to their policies.

“The outcome of this case is likely to form the foundational roadblocks of where we go from here -- whether we scale-back or ramp-up deployment,” Keith Oliver, lawyer at Peters & Peters, said via email.

“The brakes have been squeezed to afford us more time to work out what these systems can actually do,” he said. “We should therefore always keep in mind Orwell’s words in 1984: ‘No one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.”

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