It’s been a bad few weeks for facial-recognition technology. San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to effectively ban the use of the controversial biometrics technology by groups like the police, and now the first legal battle over police use of the technology is taking place in the U.K.
The case involves a citizen named Ed Bridges, who is taking action against South Wales Police, alleging that live facial-recognition technology was used against him in a breach of his personal privacy. His case, a three-day hearing being heard at the Cardiff Civil Justice and Family Center, also claims that facial-recognition use by the police is in breach of data protection and equality laws in the United Kingdom. The complaint notes that certain studies have shown facial recognition as disproportionately likely to misidentify women and people of color, resulting in potentially discriminatory action being taken against them.
Bridges is being supported by Liberty, a U.K. organization that “challenges injustice, defends freedom, and campaigns to make sure everyone … is treated fairly.”
South Wales Police has reportedly been at the forefront of using facial-recognition technology in the U.K., and has been using it in public spaces dating back to May 2017. According to Liberty, “thousands of people have been scanned without their knowledge or consent,” including at high-profile music and sporting events. Bridges believes that he was scanned while attending a peaceful anti-arms protest and while out Christmas shopping.
Liberty likens this to taking a person’s DNA or fingerprints without their consent or knowledge. “Facial-recognition technology snatches our biometric data without our knowledge or consent, making a mockery of our right to privacy,” Megan Goulding, a lawyer for the organization, said in a statement. “It is discriminatory and takes us another step toward being routinely monitored wherever we go, fundamentally altering our relationship with state powers and changing public spaces. It belongs to a police state and has no place on our streets.”
It’s not clear exactly what is at stake in the hearing. While Bridges clearly feels personally wronged, the case takes a broader critical view of facial-recognition technology used by law enforcement. This initial hearing may provide some clarity around the legality and ethics of facial recognition in the U.K.
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