In a potentially landmark ruling, the U.K. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the use of automatic facial recognition software by the South Wales Police (SWP) violated privacy rights.

The specific type of software referenced in the case, AFR Locate, functions similarly to others that have caused controversy all over the world: It scans the faces of pedestrians without their knowledge or consent and compares them to known persons of interest.

The case against SWP was brought by Ed Bridges, 37, a Cardiff-based civil liberties advocate with the support of the Liberty organization. The case concerned two specific instances when AFR was used on Bridges, but the department was said to have used it 50 times from 2017-2019.

A panel of three judges ruled that this software violated “privacy rights, data protection laws, and equality laws,” according to CNBC.

“This technology is an intrusive and discriminatory mass surveillance tool,” Bridges said. “We should all be able to use our public spaces without being subjected to oppressive surveillance.”

The ruling comes at a time when facial recognition is becoming increasingly common in law enforcement and could help set an important precedent, and not just in the U.K., where London police are set to begin using it soon.

In China, facial recognition technology is widespread and densely integrated into public infrastructure. There, it is utilized not just for law enforcement purposes, but also to track citizens during their everyday lives as part of the government’s social credits system, which rewards people for “good behavior.”

In June, the New York City Council overwhelmingly (44-6) voted in favor of a bill that provides oversight and regulation for the NYPD’s use of facial recognition in its surveillance activities. Mayor Bill De Blasio later signed the bill into law, requiring the department to divulge how its software function as well as the rules by which it abides when using it.

San Francisco and several other cities have banned the use of facial recognition by police amid concerns about accuracy, while some big tech firms have suspended sales of the technology to law enforcement San Francisco and several other cities have banned the use of facial recognition by police amid concerns about accuracy, while some big tech firms have suspended sales of the technology to law enforcement Photo: GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / JUSTIN SULLIVAN