Legal Challenge to Biometric Surveillance Gets Underway in UK

“The hearings, held at a court in Cardiff, heard from South Wales Police barrister Jeremy Johnson QC, who explained that the facial recognition technology only looks for matches against police watch lists, and that if no match is found for a given subject, their biometric data is deleted immediately.”

Legal Challenge to Biometric Surveillance Gets Underway in UK

Hearings are now underway in the first major legal challenge against police use of facial recognition technology in the UK.

The challenge was brought by Ed Bridges, a resident of Cardiff, which has become an epicenter of police experimentation with the biometric surveillance technology in recent years. Bridges is being supported by the civil rights organization Liberty; and while he has not been apprehended or questioned as a result of the police surveillance, he believes he has been subjected to the facial recognition technology on at least two occasions, and objects to it on principle as a violation of his privacy.

The hearings, held at a court in Cardiff, heard from South Wales Police barrister Jeremy Johnson QC, who explained that the facial recognition technology only looks for matches against police watch lists, and that if no match is found for a given subject, their biometric data is deleted immediately.

Johnson argued that the police force’s use of this technology has had a minimal impact on Bridges, and made the broader argument that the facial recognition technology offers a powerful tool for policing along the lines of fingerprint forensics and phone data analysis, technologies that also entailed civil rights concerns when first introduced. “Fair balance has to be struck between civil liberties and the detection and prevention of crime,” he said.

The hearings are underway at a time of intensifying debate over government use of biometric surveillance technology, with multiple municipal restrictions having recently emerged in California. As for South Wales, the hearings are ongoing, and it’s too early to say what kind of impact they will have on broader government policy.

Sources: The Guardian, BBC News

May 23, 2019 – by Alex Perala