(Bridges) v. Chief Constable of South Wales Police

July 7, 2023

R (Bridges) v. Chief Constable of South Wales Police and Others (2019) EWHC 2341

  1. Facts

Bridges, the claimant, brought a judicial review action against the use of Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) by South Wales Police in 2018. Bridges claimed that he had been present in Cardiff on two occasions when the police deployed the AFR. The AFR Locate works by taking a live feed from a camera, which is deployed overtly. The software extracts face captured in the footage and process them, distilling each face into a matrix of numbers that encodes the sizes, angles, shapes, and lengths, etc., of facial features. The information captured by the software is compared with that already deployed in the police watch list. In case of the information matches, the police are alerted to review the image sources and decide whether they can intervene. If the information does not match, the information captured is deleted.

Bridges claim that police’s use of AFR Locate breaches public law provisions such as Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights on the right to privacy, the Public Sector Equality Duty in the Equality Act 2010 (it was alleged that the AFR Locate identified non-white people and women less accurately) and the Data Protection Act. Concerning Article 8 ECHR, the claimant claimed that capturing and analyzing biometric data of members of the public amounted to a breach of their right to privacy. 

  • Decision

The Court held that although the use of automated facial recognition technology interfered with individuals’ right to privacy per Article 8 ECHR, the interference was proportionate and in accordance with the law. Therefore, no infringement occurred.

  • The ratio of the case

The court was convinced that the use of AFR was governed by a transparent legal framework that lays out facial recognition technology by the police officers and police policies and codes of practice. The AFR project in South Wales had involved the public through substantial public engagement, and there was human intervention in how the system worked.

  • Why the general public needs to learn about the case

The public needs to be aware of this case because it details instances where police are justified to collect sensitive personal data, the measures that the police should observe before collecting such data, i.e., the police should undertake a data protection impact assessment (DPIA) before using facial recognition technology and police should take all necessary steps to reduce any risk to individuals. The public needs to learn about the case for them to learn how sensitive data collected is stored. The police should apply the data minimization policy, which states that the data collected should be deleted quickly if not useful. Further, the public affected should be notified, and the facial recognition technology should be as transparent as possible.

Also, the public should learn about the case to acquire knowledge on the proper safeguards required to be put in place before using facial recognition technology. The implementations include:

The algorithms within the facial recognition technology should not discriminate against any individual.

The police force should develop an appropriate policy document that details when, how, and why the technology is being used.

  • The police force should carry out a data protection impact assessment.
  • The assessment should be submitted to the ICO.

Lastly, the public needs to learn about the case to be acquainted with data protection laws and how they apply in their lives daily. 

  • Brief reading list 

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