South Wales Police Response to the Court of Appeal judgment on the use of facial recognition technology
“The test of our ground-breaking use of this technology by the courts has been a welcome and important step in its development. I am confident this is a judgment that we can work with. Our priority remains protecting the public, and that goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to ensuring they can see we are using new technology in ways that are responsible and fair.”
The force has led the way with its deployment of facial recognition technology as part of a police transformation programme funded by the Home Office, breaking new ground in protecting the public and bringing offenders to justice.
Chief Constable Matt Jukes said: “The test of our ground-breaking use of this technology by the courts has been a welcome and important step in its development. I am confident this is a judgment that we can work with. Our priority remains protecting the public, and that goes hand-in-hand with a commitment to ensuring they can see we are using new technology in ways that are responsible and fair.
“After our approach to these issues was initially endorsed by the Divisional Court and now that the Court of Appeal has given further scrutiny on specific points, we will give their findings serious attention. The Court of Appeal’s judgment helpfully points to a limited number of policy areas that require this attention. Our policies have already evolved since the trials in 2017 and 2018 were considered by the courts, and we are now in discussions with the Home Office and Surveillance Camera Commissioner about the further adjustments we should make and any other interventions that are required.
“We have already placed further focus on one concern. As our work with facial recognition has been developing, international concern about potential bias in algorithms has grown. We are pleased that the court has acknowledged that there was no evidence of bias or discrimination in our use of the technology. But questions of public confidence, fairness and transparency are vitally important, and the Court of Appeal is clear that further work is needed to ensure that there is no risk of us breaching of our duties around equality. In 2019 we commissioned academic analysis of this question and although the current pandemic has disrupted its progress, this work has restarted and will inform our response to the Court of Appeal’s conclusions.”
Whilst there have been some policy developments since 2018, particularly in the way the technology is deployed, South Wales Police is already working with the Surveillance Camera Commissioner, Home Office, College of Policing and National Police Chiefs Council to embed into operational guidance the determinations by the Court of Appeal.
South Wales Police remains completely committed to its careful development and deployment and is proud of the fact that there has never been an unlawful arrest as a result of using the technology in South Wales.
Live-time deployments of facial recognition in the force area have resulted in 61 people being arrested for offences including robbery and violence, theft and court warrants. These have ranged from major sporting and public events in Cardiff and Swansea to supporting operations to tackle local criminality.
For example, a deployment was held at a music event in Cardiff. Similar concerts in other parts of the UK resulted in more than 220 mobile phones being stolen from people attending. Thirty people who were thought to be part of an organised crime group who specialise in stealing phones at music events were placed on a watch list, resulting in one person being arrested for going equipped to steal and there were no reports of any mobile phone thefts.
Deputy Chief Constable Jeremy Vaughan, who is the national policing lead for facial recognition, has already been working with the Home Office, police forces and other law enforcement agencies to look at how the deployment of facial recognition technology is done consistently across policing in England and Wales.
DCC Vaughan said: “The whole aim of facial recognition technology is to keep the public safe and assist us in identifying offenders and protecting communities from individuals who pose a risk.
“I believe the public will continue to support our use of all the available methods and technology to keep them safe, providing what we do is legitimate and proportionate.
“There is nothing in the Court of Appeal judgment that fundamentally undermines the use of facial recognition to protect the public. This judgement will only strengthen the work which is already underway to ensure that the operational policies we have in place can withstand robust legal challenge and public scrutiny.”