Judgment in the world’s first case on police use of live Automated Facial Recognition


A Divisional Court has handed down judgment in a landmark case on the use of live Automated Facial Recognition (AFR) by the police (R (Bridges) v South Wales Police [2019] EWHC 2341 (Admin)). Live AFR captures the facial biometrics of people passing within range of video cameras and compares this data to the facial biometrics of people on police watchlists. South Wales Police (SWP) uses AFR in real time in areas with very large numbers of people in an attempt to locate persons of interest. The Claimant challenged SWP’s use of AFR on the basis that he had twice been present when this technology was in use, as well as its ongoing use in his police area. The Court held that live AFR engages the Article 8 rights of anyone whose face is scanned (or is at risk of being scanned) and constitutes the (sensitive) processing of their personal data. The judges nevertheless concluded that SWP’s use of AFR did/does not breach the Claimant’s privacy or data protection rights. The judgment recognises that a public authority data controller’s compliance with the duty to undertake a data protection impact assessment is amenable to judicial review but rejected the challenge to SWP’s assessment. A challenge to SWP’s discharge of the Public Sector Equality Duty was also dismissed.

Dan Squires QC and Aidan Wills acted for the Claimant, instructed by Liberty.

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