British court rules for police use of facial recognition technology

A British court ruled Wednesday that public use of facial recognition technology by law enforcement was legal, documenting one of the first legal challenges to its use.

The court ruled police use of facial recognition has a sound legal basis. File Photo by 360b/Shutterstock

Cardiff resident Ed Bridges challenged the technology after spotting scanning security cameras in his area. Bridges’ attorneys argued during a hearing in May it violates British data protection and equality laws.

The majority of judges on the High Court of Cardiff ruled Wednesday that while facial recognition interferes with privacy rights, the technology in the hands of police has a lawful and legal basis.

“We are satisfied both that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure appropriate and non-arbitrary use of [automated facial recognition] … and [police] use … has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the data protection legislation,” Lord Justice Charles Anthony Haddon-Cave said in the ruling.


Police records showed the department has been using facial recognition for heavily-attended events like sports games and air shows. The cameras scan faces in the crowd and compare them to images in a police database of wanted individuals, alerting a command center when there is a match.

“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,” said Bridges in a statement, who is backed by the British human rights group Liberty.

The ruling was widely watched in other countries, including the United States, where police departments in Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles use real-time facial recognition.


“Preventing crime and supporting safe, confident, resilient communities is the first responsibility of the police, but this has become increasingly difficult,” South Wales police and crime commissioner Alun Michael said.

“That has made it essential to use innovation and embrace technology like facial recognition if we are to have any hope of maintaining police numbers in our local communities.”

ByClyde Hughes