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  1. ITV Report

First court battle to challenge police use of facial recognition technology starts in Cardiff

Ed Bridges believes his face was scanned as he was Christmas shopping and protesting at an arms fair. Credit: Liberty

The first legal battle in the UK over police use of facial recognition technology will begin later.

Ed Bridges has crowdfunded action against South Wales Police over claims that the use of the technology on him was an unlawful violation of privacy.

He will also argue it breaches data protection and equality laws during a three-day hearing at Cardiff Civil Justice and Family Centre.

The police started using this technology against me and thousands of other people in my area without warning or consultation. It’s hard to see how the police could possibly justify such a disproportionate use of such an intrusive surveillance tool like this, and we hope that the court will agree with us that unlawful use of facial recognition must end, and our rights must be respected.

– Ed Bridges
Credit: ITV News

Facial recognition technology maps faces in a crowd then compares results with a "watch list" of images which can include suspects, missing people and persons of interest.

Police who have trialled the technology hope it can help tackle crime but campaigners argue it breaches privacy and civil liberty.

South Wales Police first used Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR) during the Champions League final week in Cardiff in 2017. Mr Bridges, from Cardiff, said he has been scanned by AFR at least twice, including at a peaceful anti-arms protest and while doing Christmas shopping, according to the the campaign group Liberty, which represents him.

Credit: ITV News

Liberty claims South Wales Police have used facial recognition technology "on around 50 occasions".

Facial recognition technology snatches our biometric data without our knowledge or consent, making a mockery of our right to privacy. It is discriminatory and takes us another step towards 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.

– Megan Goulding, lawyer at Liberty

The force said it would not comment until the judicial review is finished.

The Metropolitan Police have also trialled the technology several times in London.

Information about AFR on a website set up by South Wales Police says it will help the force "become smarter" and make its patch safer.

The force has said it works to "ensure that the deployment of this technology is proportionate whilst recognising the need to balance security and privacy".

Liberty said freedom of information requests have shown that South Wales Police's use of live AFR technology "resulted in 'true matches' with less than 9% accuracy" in the first year.