The South Wales Police department is preparing to resume its use of live facial recognition technology. The department first started trialing face-based surveillance tech in 2017, but pulled back in 2020 after the British Court of Appeal ruled that the South Wales system violated human rights laws on several fronts.
However, that has not deterred the South Wales Police. The department is essentially viewing its defeat as part of the learning process, and claims that it has been able to use the Court’s feedback to develop a surveillance system that will meet a stricter legal standard.
“There was nothing in the Court of Appeal judgment that fundamentally undermined the use of facial recognition,” said Assistant Chief Constable Mark Travis. “The work that has gone on since 2020 will strengthen the operational policies we have in place and win public support through being designed to withstand the most robust legal challenge and public scrutiny.”
In its 2020 decision, the Court of Appeal specifically ruled that the South Wales Police did not perform a satisfactory privacy impact assessment, and did not take adequate steps to guard against racial and gender bias before deploying the system. The Police’s legal mandate was also called into question, insofar as there were not clear guidelines about where and when the police could use facial recognition, and how names were added to public watchlists.
The Police are nevertheless confident that those issues have been addressed, and will proceed with public trials of the new facial recognition system on Saturday, March 19, in Cardiff City Centre. South Wales police and crime commissioner Alun Michael indicated that he is overseeing the system to make sure that it is being used in an ethical fashion, and to prevent abuses of the technology. He did not offer details about what that oversight process entails, though he did suggest that an independent body has scrutinized the system.
As it stands, South Wales Police said that the use of facial recognition had led to 61 arrests in South Wales before the Court of Appeal challenge, with the department insisting that none of those arrests had been unlawful. Having said that, the arrest number is inconsistent with the Police’s own reporting, since the department claimed that it had used facial recognition to make more than 450 arrests back in 2018. The police had previously deployed surveillance fans near large venues like train stations and soccer stadiums, which led to protests and strong pushback from the general public.
Source: Police Professional
March 18, 2022 – by Eric Weiss