back to article Welsh police use of facial recog tech – it's so 'lawful', rules High Court

South Wales Police's use of facial recognition has been found lawful by the High Court in a world-first hearing regarding the controversial technology. Cardiff resident Ed Bridges, represented by campaign group Liberty, challenged South Wales Police at a judicial review in May after believing his face was scanned by the …

  1. John Jennings Bronze badge

    How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

    What is the legal basis?

    Have they a privacy notice?

    Data sharing agreements - which third parties are doing the processing?

    Has it worked?

    1. }{amis}{
      Big Brother

      Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

      Its the home office they regularly pull the rules out of their ass and if anyone dares to call them on it the trot our either :

      A: But think of the childrennnnnnnnnnnnn


      B: But Terrorism

      While the papers froth over the implications of A or B they have the law changed to make their latest Knife in the heart of freedom Toy legal.

    2. Julz Silver badge
      Big Brother


      From the ICO website on exemptions:

      "Law enforcement – the processing of personal data by competent authorities for law enforcement purposes is outside the GDPR’s scope (e.g. the Police investigating a crime). Instead, this type of processing is subject to the rules in Part 3 of the DPA 2018. See our Guide to Law Enforcement Processing for further information."

      If your bored or just like parsing legal documents, have a look at Part 3.

      1. j.bourne

        Re: Unfortunately

        This isn't the police 'investigating a crime'. This is surveillance which may at some point have a remote possibility of detecting a wanted person: or someone that looks similar to a wanted person. But has the power to track movements of individuals who are free of any suspicion of being involved in a crime.

        1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

          Re: Unfortunately

          This isn't the police 'investigating a crime'.

          Tut, tut.

          The police are always investigating at least one crime.

          For every crime, for every person, there is a nonzero probability that person was somehow involved with that crime, whether as a perpetrator, victim, or witness. It may be vanishingly small, but it's not zero.

          So blanket surveillance can always be justified as "investigating a crime". The "while investigating a crime" limitation is vapid - interpreted strictly, it imposes no restriction at all, so its actual effect is entirely at the whim of the courts.

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

      Has it worked?

      That's the last criterion it would ever be judged on.

  2. Kevin Johnston Silver badge

    Keeping pace?

    Maybe I am just confused here but how is facial recognition any different in law from fingerprints? Both are biometric identification techniques and while the accuracy of facial recognition may not be as good just now, they are intended for exactly the same purpose and so should be subject to the same controls.

    There has to be reasonable suspicion of an offence before fingerprints can be taken but according to this judgement, facial images can be taken of the whole population regardless of age, status or involvement in criminal acts....let those that think this acceptable be the first to have all their biometric details recorded in a public body database.

    1. Why Not?

      Re: Keeping pace?

      It is invasive to obtain an official copy of a person's fingerprints, you need to coat their hands in ink and press them to a piece of paper (or similar). That is why they need to obtain permission. The police can of course freely take a copy of latent prints (the mark you leave behind) at crime scenes.

      The same can be said of DNA evidence.

      Taking someone's photograph in public is not invasive and permitted by any photographer.

      Just as ANPR can record the presence of a number-plate to record a crime or just presence its the processing of the sequence of ANPR records to trace a car's journey that is different and questionable. We need to limit the processing of the data not the capture.

      1. TDog

        Re: Keeping pace?

        There is an argument which may be slightly different.

        Taking the image may well be lawful. It is no more than photographing a crowd or a snapshot of an individual. Police and other systems do this all of the time. But associating a name with a particular image may well be unlawful. Particularly if it has less than 50% probability of being that person.

        So in civil law it is necessary to prove that on the balance of probabilities that there is a causal relationship, which is quite obviously not the case it the probability of the accuracy is less than 5%.

        And for criminal law with its beyond all reasonable doubt requirement this is much more difficult.

        So if this information is associated with your image then presumably this could be described as libelous if published or otherwise slanderous.

        And anyone who claimed "we have reason to believe" would be knowingly propagating a libel or a slander.

      2. RunawayLoop

        Re: Keeping pace?

        "Taking someone's photograph in public is not invasive"

        If you are thinking that a single photograph is not invasive then you're probably correct. The problem is there isn't just one camera taking your picture. They're almost ubiquitous, particularly in metro-like areas, and so simply travelling from point A to point B you are likely to be photographed multiple times... that's the invasive part. Ask yourself, what is the purpose of the "free" society I live in? Is it to be tracked everywhere you go, to have all your purchases monitored, to turn people into products?

        Imagine if someone followed you around all day, day after day taking your photograph whenever they felt like it. Perhaps you personally would put up with this but what if they did the same to your family? You've been conditioned by authorities that it's "ok" to live like this and that you have no right to privacy when if fact this is completely false. Do you have curtains on your windows at home? Do you close the door when you go to the toilet or get changed? Do you let others watch your family when they are shower? If you do any of these things then deep down you do believe in your right to privacy.

  3. John Jennings Bronze badge

    How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

    Claim a false positive of 1 in 2-3 thousand - its damn lies. The system seems to scan thousands of peoples faces against a watch list (assume a small number - it says in the privacy notice that the list is MOSTLY people from the criminal databse - not exclusively)

    The RATIO of correct matches and interventions to Incorrect matches is often 50%! When they tested it with 7 (count them ) 7 faces - it managed a whole 75 percent!

    Their privacy notice is a joke.

    1. Wandering Reader

      Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

      The police have been using facial recognition since forever, with terrible error rates throughout. They could hardly do their job without it.

      These days they use cameras and computers to help. It can't really make things any worse.

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

        But will it make things worse?

      2. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

        The police have been using facial recognition since forever, with terrible error rates throughout.

        Now, now, be fair. Over the decades a number of police forces have shown that their constables have a far greater ability to recognise black faces than white.

    2. Flywheel Silver badge

      Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

      the list is MOSTLY people from the criminal database

      I would imagine there are also a few journalists, photographers and other uppity citizens on there that aren't (yet) criminals but annoying enough to become so if the Authorities find an excuse to pull them in for something.

      1. Qarumba

        Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

        You've just listed three of the most annoying types of people I can think of. The current breed of journalists are extremely annoying and aren't really journalists, just sensationalists. The current breed of photographers are all Instagrammers photographing their bistro-style sandwich to impress their friends. As for the uppity citizens...

        1. BigSLitleP

          Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

          You sound uppity, i think we should add you to the list.....

      2. Why Not?

        Re: How in the name of sweet beJesis is this legal?

        This is probably the key "who do you match it against and why".

        If you have a database of people who are convicted drunk drivers banned from driving and you match active drivers against it then that is direct crime detection - OK?. Now if you have a database of convicted pickpockets and you use cctv footage at a festival is that ok?

        Now change the word from convicted to suspected - still OK? etc.

        So we need clear rules who and why you match it against.

        We need to define rules of engagement when a match is made. First the match must be manually verified by a competent officer, then an agreed process to approach the possible suspect and verify their identity in a polite and acceptable way.

        Now denying it works now is pointless, the evidence is that it will work soon and as it evolves it will become a major part of police work, we just need to manage the genie as it comes out of the bottle.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Would I be right....

    In assuming that facial disguises would, therefore, be legal, and, therefore, a fantastic business opportunity, so long as you're not evading the law?

    I maybe wrong, given the poor detection rates cited.

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Would I be right....

      > In assuming that facial disguises would, therefore, be legal, and, therefore, a fantastic business opportunity, so long as you're not evading the law?

      Well, not at the moment. But that's the next step isn't it? Covering your face in a 'facial recognition zone' will become illegal.

      1. Not also known as SC

        Re: Would I be right....

        "Covering your face in a 'facial recognition zone' will become illegal."

        Isn't that effectively the case with things like crash helmets and hoodies in some locations where CCTV is used (banks, shops, petrol stations etc)? If it is similar then any such law as you've suggested would be so easy to introduce.

        To be honest I'm less worried about the authorities,who you have to trust at some point, but more about if this technology is then made legal in general. Can you imagine the exploitation advertisers would come up with?

        1. HellDeskJockey

          Re: Would I be right....

          Nice Burka. Is that for religious reasons or are you trying to avoid the police cameras?

        2. drawoC esuomynonA

          Re: Would I be right....

          I once had a "discussion" with the owner of a petrol station as I was leaving the shop having paid for my fuel.

          To sum it up, he said "you should have taken your helmet off before going in to pay", my response was something along the lines of "if you really think that a criminal is going to pay the slightest bit of attention to that and not rob you then you're a complete moron, all you're doing is inconveniencing completely innocent customers".

          I wasn't quite that polite but one of his staff did thank me as I walked back to my bike!

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Would I be right....

            No, he then knows when the raid is happening.

            Though to be fair, most just turn up without a helmet on, then raid.

            Same with general carry in/searches. You trust the trustworthy, it's the 0.01% that are not that are the problem.

          2. genghis_uk Bronze badge

            Re: Would I be right....

            Don't get me started - I have had several 'discussions' with petrol station staff about this.

            Walking in holding a £20 note...? obviously I am about to rob the place!

            Sod 'em, there are plenty of other local places I can fill up.

            Back on topic...

            The problem with all of these systems is that the computer flags someone and it is then down to the person to prove they are innocent. It could just be production of ID (we do not have to carry ID so that could be awkward), or it could be a case of being whisked off to the station for questioning after being misidentified. Presumption of innocence goes out of the window

      2. hakuli
        Big Brother

        Re: Would I be right....

        2+2=5 said:

        "Well, not at the moment. But that's the next step isn't it? Covering your face in a 'facial recognition zone' will become illegal."

        Ask and ye shall receive...

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Covering your face in a 'facial recognition zone' will become illegal

        it already IS illegal, as it gives the plod reasonable grounds to believe you have something to hide, so you can be stopped. And yes, even if a judge would be sympathetic to the broader picture, he / she couldn't deny that if you hide your face you have something to hide from those databases, all legit then, fully legal. Reasonable ground allright :/

      4. ElReg!comments!Pierre

        Re: Would I be right....

        Already illegal in France during protests, and I do mean full-on, criminal charges involved, illegal, not bylaw-prohibited as for petrol stations and the like.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The sprint to a police state continues

    Right to privacy dead.

    Right to free speech long dead.

    Right to free movement dead

    Keep voting for the same idiot political parties, and soon we will all be nothing more than slaves to our "elected" overlords.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The sprint to a police state continues

      You forget. The ability to vote for someone, anyone, who really represents you never was alive to begin with. Against this, it's simply a matter of who's reaming you next.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, if this is legal....

    So, if this is legal, the police won't mind us putting our own facial recognition system in a public place, pointed at the doors to the police stations, "trained" to recognise police uniforms?

  7. Kernel

    You're all missing the most important aspect of this ruling

    The important bit in this is that Lord Justice Haddon-Cave and Mr Justice Swift have now gone down in legal history with a world-first ruling that caters to plod's surveillance fetish - this has the potential for "gongs all 'round" in a few years time.

  8. onemark03 Bronze badge

    So having something to hide is automatically proof - or assumption - of guilt? Yeah, right.

  9. Mephistro

    "Lord Justice Haddon-Cave"

    One of the clearest cases of nominative determinism I've ever seen.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    99p solution

    Childs party mask.

    Worn as a collective in a crowd = 100% defeat of AFR



  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    "is adequate to ensure the appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate,"

    Let me guess.

    The relevant section of the snoopers charters says basically "The plod can do what they like when they like with this data."

    Data fetishist law written by data fetishists is very data fetishist friendly.

    The law itself is not fit for purpose and should be dealt with.

  12. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I find it ironic that judges who wear silly wigs to make it harder to be recognised outside of the court room, find a technology for tracking people from their faces lawful.

    I also wonder how use of this tech fits in with the rehabilitation of offenders act since it is going to be picking out anyone who it has on the PNC even if the conviction is classed as spent. And no doubt the plod will then pull them over to see what they are up to, even though they might be at work or with friends at the time who are unaware of their past conviction.

  13. Cuddles Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    What's the problem?

    As long as the police aren't lying to us about handing over all their data to private surveillance companies, surely it's all fine?

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    clearly we need

    a facial recognition database of police officers for the public to search.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: clearly we need

      Won't work. Facial recog has no effect on someone with no shame, since they really DO have nothing to hide OR fear, seeing as how the judges will just let them off as they're in on it.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Of course it is.

    First we have prison transport when flying. And now we're informed we live in a prison state. Great :(

    They'll be telling us that democracy is over soon. Oh, well, never mind - we never had that. We have a parliamentary democracy where the so-called representatives vote in their own interests above everything else :(

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