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South Wales Police suffer facial recognition setback

The use of live facial recognition technology by South Wales Police is unlawful, according to a new ruling from the Court of Appeal which could have significant implications for football fans.

Last season, South Wales Police used facial recognition at a match between Cardiff City and Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium, leading to protests from supporters.

The Court of Appeal ruling follows a legal challenge brought by Ed Bridges, 37, from Cardiff and supported by civil rights group Liberty.

The court upheld three of the five points raised in the appeal – it said there was no clear guidance on where facial recognition could be used and who could be put on a watchlist.

The court also found South Wales Police’s data protection impact assessment was deficient and the force did not take reasonable steps to find out if the software had a racial or gender bias.

In October Cardiff City supporters were fiercely critical of the technology’s introduction at the match, which came despite supporters being assured previously that it would not be deployed. Restrictive “bubble”-style policing measures were already being in place.

The force’s u-turn led to fan protests, including supporters wearing Halloween masks outside the ground and displaying anti-facial recognition banners.

FSA Cymru’s Paul Corkrey said: “Football supporters are tired of being used as guinea pigs to test out new technology and new powers.

“Subjecting thousands of law-abiding citizens to facial recognition scanning without any consultation was out of order. This ruling should make the police think twice.”

The cost of the operation around the Cardiff City-Swansea City fixture, together with use of the controversial technology, and what it was meant to achieve, have all been brought into question by Cardiff City fans.

Questions remain over the technology, how South Wales Police use the data they gather, how they compile their lists of targets when scanning crowds, and its fallibility.

FSA caseworker Amanda Jacks said: “The Court of Appeal Judgement is very welcome.

“We hope if facial recognition is ever deployed at football matches again, it is only after consultation with supporter organisations who have been persuaded it is an appropriate and proportionate use of this technology at an event with a very low risk of criminality.”

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