Sue Chadwick 27 September 2019

Facing up the future?

Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR) was the focus of a recent high court ruling on a challenge by Mr Bridges to its use by the South Wales Police. The court ruled that – in this specific case – the use was legitimate but the judgement raises interesting questions for public authorities considering the use of this technology on their land or buildings.

AFR is a sophisticated form of capturing and analysing facial features that goes much further than the passive indiscriminate scanning that we are familiar with from use of CCTV. In the Bridges case, the facial data was extracted from the scanned image and compared against a number of different watchlists.

So far it has been used mostly in a discrete and targeted way by the police at events such as football matches, festivals and parades and the Bridges case recognised that there are many potential positives with its use: in that case it led to a number of arrests (including someone who had previously made a bomb threat), and freed up police resources. However, the case also raised legal issues in three distinct areas:

1. Human Rights

The Bridges case confirmed that use of AFR by a public body does engage – and infringe – the 'right to privacy' under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, even though the images were captured in a public space and retained for very short time. In this case the use was held to be justified – because the police were transparent about it and the use was for a specific purpose, for a limited time and over a limited spatial footprint and the data was not retained. The court also recognised that the positive outcomes from use of AFR could not have been achieved with CCTV.

2. Data protection

The court considered the specific scope of data protection powers and responsibilities of a law enforcement body under the (Part 3) Data Protection Act 2018 so much of the ruling is simply not relevant in a wider context. However, the court did establish that AFR data 'clearly does comprise personal data' for (Part 3) Data Protection Act 2018 purposes and that 'it is beyond argument' that it is also 'biometric data' requiring specific consent to be given for its use.

3. Public Sector Equality Duty

Although the court said that there was an 'air of unreality' about this part of the claim, it is interesting to note that the police carried out an Equalities Impact Assessment as part of the decision to use AFR. In addition, they also carried out a human check on all potential matches – which the court described as an 'important failsafe' (156). Finally the court acknowledged that there is some evidence that algorhythmic datasets can be biased, and noted that in view of the evidence produced the police might consider 'whether the NeoFace Watch software may produce discriminatory impacts'.

Conclusion: think before installing

As local authorities seek to do more with less in terms of resources, and the scope of technology improves, the use of AFR on publicly owned land and buildings will seem increasingly attractive. However this case - perhaps the first of many - highlights the need to think hard before using such technology about whether the benefits justify the interference, whether adequate safeguards are in place and if equalities impacts have been given the 'due regard' that the law demands.

Sue Chadwick is strategic planning advisor for Pinsent Masons LLP

Regenerating public realm for climate change image

Regenerating public realm for climate change

The regeneration of White Hart Lane in Tottenham, London has shown has permeable paving and street trees should can help address climate change while delivering SuDS. Chris Hodson reports.
For your free daily news bulletin
Highways jobs

Social Worker (Safeguarding)

Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council
£30,984 - £35,336
The safeguarding team have an excellent opportunity for an experienced qualified Social Worker. Sandwell, West Midlands
Recuriter: Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council

Housing Officer

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
We currently have an opportunity for a Housing Officer. Wandsworth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

OD Lead – Employee Experience and ED&I

London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth
£36,853 to £47,784
At Richmond and Wandsworth Councils, we are serious about tackling inequalities. Wandsworth, London (Greater)
Recuriter: London Borough of Richmond upon Thames and London Borough of Wandsworth

Integrated Service Manager

Lancashire County Council
An exciting opportunity has arisen in Children and Family Wellbeing Service for the appointment of a Permanent Integrated Service Manager. Accrington, Lancashire
Recuriter: Lancashire County Council

Care Assistant - Westminster Homecare

Essex County Council
Up to £23088 per annum
Care Assistant - Westminster HomecarePermanent, Full Time£12.00Location
Recuriter: Essex County Council

Partner Content

Circular highways is a necessity not an aspiration – and it’s within our grasp

Shell is helping power the journey towards a circular paving industry with Shell Bitumen LT R, a new product for roads that uses plastics destined for landfill as part of the additives to make the bitumen.

Support from Effective Energy Group for Local Authorities to Deliver £430m Sustainable Warmth Funded Energy Efficiency Projects

Effective Energy Group is now offering its support to the 40 Local Authorities who have received a share of the £430m to deliver their projects on the ground by surveying properties and installing measures.

Pay.UK – the next step in Bacs’ evolution

Dougie Belmore explains how one of the main interfaces between you and Bacs is about to change.