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South Wales police win facial recognition legal challenge as King’s Cross plans halted


The use of biometric facial recognition by South Wales police interferes with the privacy rights of those scanned, but is still legal, the Cardiff high court has ruled, according to The Guardian.

A pair of judges decided against the challenge brought by former Liberal Democrat Councillor Ed Bridges, with support from rights group Liberty, found that the legal framework for the technology’s use is proportionate.

“We are satisfied both that the current legal regime is adequate to ensure appropriate and non-arbitrary use of AFR Locate, and that South Wales police’s use to date of AFR Locate has been consistent with the requirements of the Human Rights Act and the data protection legislation,” says Lord Justice Haddon-Cave.

Liberty expressed disappointment and urged the government to ban the use of real-time public facial recognition. Bridges vowed to continue opposing its use. South Wales police representatives had argued that the technology prevents crime, protects the public, and does not breach the privacy rights of innocent people.

A government lawyer specializing in police use of facial recognition told The Guardian that the ruling applies only to the specific case in question, and does not represent broader legal approval. South Wales police Chief Constable Matt Jukes urged further public and political debate.

A survey by the Ada Lovelace Institute has found that the majority of UK adults want the government to impose limits on police use of facial recognition, but 49 percent support its day-to-day use by police, in the presence of appropriate controls.

King’s Cross deployment shelved

The developers of King’s Cross have discontinued their facial recognition plans, a letter to London mayor Sadiq Kahn seen by the BBC reveals.

Argent had previously indicated the technology was being used for public safety, but the letter to Kahn says its limited facial recognition system was used from 2015 until March 2018, on two cameras. The developer has also previously said the system was used to help the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police, but the latter denied it had any involvement.

The letter describes a system in development which would check images against a small watchlist, blurring out all other faces on capture and playback. The company was in the process of installing it, and the system had been audited for GDPR compliance. Those plans have now changed, according to a statement by Argent.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has launched an investigation into the deployment.

Macau launches public facial recognition

The Unitary Police Service (SPU) of Macau will install and test 50 surveillance cameras with facial recognition during the first quarter of 2020, Macau Business reports.

Police also plan to deploy roughly 50 more cameras with license plate readers for testing during the same period. Eventually, local authorities plan six deployment phases to reach a total of 2400 surveillance cameras by 2023. Of those, 200 with facial recognition and license plate reading capabilities would be installed during the third and fourth phases. An expansion of the “Eye in the Sky” system to 2,600 cameras has previously been reported.

More than 2000 police cases have been helped by “Eye in the Sky” cameras since 2016, according to a police spokesperson.

The Office for Personal Data Protection (GPDP) provided instructions to the police, including the pixilation of footage of inside residences.

Macau has also been considering the use of facial recognition to prevent crime

Sri Lanka plans biometric database

Police in Sri Lanka have begun working on a biometric database for identifying criminals with facial biometrics, the local Sunday Times reports. The database would be integrated with data from police, the Department of Immigration and Emigration, the Department of Registration of Persons, and Sri Lanka Telecom.

Senior police officers detailed the plan to President Maithripala Sirisena, according to the report. Police officers would have access to the database, which would include details of wanted suspects.

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