In the world’s first successful challenge against the use of automatic facial recognition technology (AFR) by police, the court of appeal ruled on 11 August that the South Wales police (SWP) force’s use of AFR had been unlawful. This overturned a high court ruling the other way.
The appeal was brought by Liberty, on behalf of anti-arms trade activist Ed Bridges. The court upheld three of the five grounds Liberty raised.
It found that the legal framework for the use of AFR was too broad to allow police to meet appropriate legal standards while deploying it. It also found that the SWP did not comply with the Equality Act 2010, which required a public authority to assess whether a policy exhibited a racist or sexist bias.
Nevertheless, the court found that the police’s use of AFR in respect of Bridges was proportionate because its potential benefits outweighed its impact on Bridges.
The court of appeal wrote in its judgement: ‘We would hope that, as AFR is a novel and controversial technology, all police forces that intend to use it in the future would wish to satisfy themselves that everything reasonable which could be done had been done in order to make sure that the software used does not have a racial or gender bias.’
Indeed, in practice, use of AFR has shown such a bias.