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South Wales Police Slammed for New Facial Recog App

South Wales Police is set to begin a trial of controversial facial recognition technology this month, even as rights groups challenge its legality in the courts.

The police force is reported to be using hardware from NEC and an in-house developed software UI to provide it with a second set of eyes to scan crowds of people and identify those that may be on a watch list.

The app-based automatic facial recognition (AFR) system measures the distance between individuals’ facial features to match those on the list with people in a crowd.

However, it has been heavily criticized: a report from Big Brother Watch last year claimed that false positives in a trial by the Metropolitan Police reached 98%, while South Wales Police stored images of 2400 innocent people incorrectly matched by AFR for a year without their knowledge.

A Cardiff man was given the green light in July to launch a High Court challenge to the police force’s use of AFR, claiming it violates the privacy rights of everyone within range of the cameras and discourages peaceful protest, as well as discriminates against women and BAME people.

Rights group Liberty, which is representing the man in court, claimed that the new three-month trial by South Wales Police, set to start this month, was “shameful” considering the ongoing legal challenge.

Jason Tooley, board member of techUK and chief revenue officer at Veridium, argued that police need to be more strategic in their use of biometrics, combining multiple approaches.

“This strategy would take advantage of other biometric techniques such as digital fingerprinting which ensure a higher level of public consent due to the maturity of fingerprints as an identity verification technique,” he added.

“It’s clear that alleviating privacy concerns need to be prioritized by the police within the overall strategy for using technology in this area. The public need to be able to see the value of the technology innovation through results in order to advance consent and acceptance by citizens.”

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