Police use of facial recognition ruled lawful

An activist has vowed to continue his legal fight after losing the world’s first court challenge over police use of facial recognition technology.

Police on patrol. Picture: TSPL

Ed Bridges, 36, from Cardiff, brought a High Court challenge after claiming his face was scanned while doing Christmas shopping in 2017 and at a peaceful anti-arms protest last year.

His lawyers argued the use of automatic facial recognition (AFR) by South Wales Police caused him “distress” and violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

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But his case was dismissed yesterday by two leading judges, who said the use of the technology was not unlawful.

After the ruling, Mr Bridges said he would appeal the court’s decision.

He said: “South Wales Police has been using facial recognition indiscriminately against thousands of innocent people, without our knowledge or consent.

“This sinister technology undermines our privacy and I will continue to fight against its unlawful use to ensure our rights are protected and we are free from disproportionate Government surveillance.”

Police Scotland have been urged to abandon its own pursuit of facial recognition software after San Francisco city leaders ruled that it was “incompatible with a healthy democracy”.

Facial recognition is part of Police Scotland’s 2026 strategy to modernise the force and prepare for new threats, with proposals for officers to have access to handheld devices that can access council CCTV, download the footage and identify suspects.

South Wales Chief Constable Matt Jukes said: “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.”

Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Mr Justice Swift said they were told by lawyers during a three-day hearing that Mr Bridges’ case was the first time any court in the world had considered the use of AFR.

The judges concluded they were “satisfied” that the existing legal regime was adequate to “ensure appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR” and the force’s use to date of the technology has been “consistent” with human rights and data protection laws.