Police facial recognition software challenged

A shopper who objected to being subjected to casual facial recognition apparatus in Cardiff has mounted the UK’s first legal challenge to the process. Edward Bridges is claiming that his human rights to privacy were breached by South Wales Police because facial recognition is the same as taking a person’s fingerprints without their permission.

The tool allows facial images to be biometrically mapped and compared to a databank of stored images to determine a match. One man in London was recently fined for refusing to have his image captured by a mobile facial recognition unit. San Francisco in the USA has banned the technology altogether following fears about infringing civil liberty.

The case will provide a crucial precedent for the use of the software which is becoming increasingly common and is considered to be the next step from normal CCTV surveillance.

The software is controversial not least because it has a chequered history in terms of accuracy especially with ethnic minority faces. But undoubtedly as it is more widely used its accuracy will improve and police forces maintain that it could be a vital tool in the fight against terrorism and organised crime.