A civil liberties group is taking on a police force which it says has scanned thousands of people’s faces without their knowledge or consent at high-profile events such as the 2017 Champions League Final and Ed Sheeran concerts.

The High Court, sitting at Cardiff Civil and Family Justice Centre, today began hearing Liberty’s challenge against South Wales Police’s deployment of automated facial recognition software. The civil liberties group is representing Ed Bridges, who believes his face was scanned by the force at a peaceful anti-arms protest and while he was doing his Christmas shopping.

Liberty says South Wales Police has deployed the technology more than 50 times over the last two years, including at the Champions League Final in 2017 between Juventus and Real Madrid, Six Nations rugby games, and Ed Sheeran concerts. The group says it has ‘come to be used routinely’ as part of the force’s everyday policing.

Commenting ahead of the hearing, Bridges said it was ‘hard to see how the police could possibly justify such a disproportionate use of such an intrusive surveillance tool’.

Megan Goulding, a lawyer at Liberty, said: ‘Facial recognition technology snatches our biometric data without our knowledge or consent, making a mockery of our right to privacy. It is discriminatory and takes us another step towards being routinely monitored wherever we go, fundamentally altering our relationship with state powers and changing public spaces. It belongs to a police state and has no place on our streets.’

The civil liberties group says technology indiscriminately scans, maps and checks the identity of every person within the camera’s range, and can lead to innocent people being stopped and questioned. Liberty also says studies have shown facial recognition technology disproportionately misidentifies women, and individuals from black, asian and minority ethnic backgrounds.

South Wales Police said it would not be commenting until the proceedings have concluded. The Gazette was guided to a section of the force’s website explaining how the automated facial recognition software works. The website states that operationally it is used to match real-time CCTV to a watchlist of persons of interest and alert the force when detected, and compare a crime scene image to a large database of images. The force says the software cannot used to identify individuals unless they are on the watchlist, it can be deployed at the ‘biggest events’ across South Wales, and it ‘greatly assists us by allowing resources to be deployed elsewhere in protecting our communities’.

Liberty has instructed Matrix Chambers barristers Dan Squires and Aidan Wills to act for Bridges.