Use of facial recognition by UK police deemed illegal

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British justice ruled on Tuesday illegal the use made by the police of facial recognition, deeming it in contradiction with respect for privacy, at the end of a procedure very followed by opponents of this controversial technology.

The London Court of Appeal was due to rule on the complaint by civil rights activist Ed Bridges, who accuses Welsh police of using facial recognition technology since 2017 that he says is discriminatory and contrary to privacy laws. private life.

The 37-year-old had his face scanned twice in Cardiff (while shopping for Christmas in 2017 and then at an event in 2018) by AFR Locate automatic facial recognition technology.

Using flagged surveillance cameras, this system scans faces in the crowd and compares them with photos from a “watch list,” which may include suspects, missing persons or of interest.

After being rejected several times, the plaintiff won his case on Tuesday, the judges considering that the use of facial recognition was not sufficiently supervised, without calling into question in itself the use of technology.

“Too (much) is left to the appreciation of each police officer,” considered the judges, stressing that there were no clear indications on where this technology could be used by the police and on that could be put on the “watch list”.

They criticized the Welsh police for not doing everything possible to check the software for racist or sexist bias, and for failing to properly assess the impact of the technology on data protection.

Ed Bridges declared himself “delighted” with the verdict reserved for this “intrusive and discriminatory tool” of “mass surveillance”. The NGO “Liberty”, which supported the complainant, hailed a “major victory”, calling for “the government to recognize the serious dangers” of this “dystopian tool”.

Have Welsh police said they will not appeal?

The UK is fertile ground for the deployment of facial recognition, due to its impressive number of surveillance cameras, 420,000 in London alone. Several controversial tests have already been carried out in the British capital, but also in Manchester, Liverpool and Sheffield.

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