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Police Target English Championship Football Fans With Facial Recognition Tech

Duncan MacRae

,

Cardiff City Football Club

A police and crime commissioner has criticised the “disproportionate” plans as “step too far”.

Privacy campaigners have criticised South Wales Police following confirmation the force intends to use live facial recognition technology at an English Championship game this weekend.

The privacy rights campaigners, along with a Police and Crime Commissioner, have criticised the plans to use the tech at the Cardiff City v Swansea City match as “a step too far”.

South Wales Police used the surveillance technology amidst controversy in October 2019 at a previous match between the clubs, attracting protests from fans. Despite the operation producing no facial recognition matches, police plan to use the tool again when the two teams meet at Cardiff City Stadium.

Use of facial recognition cameras is currently being challenged in two separate human rights cases that claim the surveillance breaches privacy rights. One challenge is being brought by civil liberties campaign group, Big Brother Watch, and Green peer Baroness Jenny Jones against the Metropolitan Police – which has since paused use of the technology. A further challenge is being pursued by Dr Ed Bridges against South Wales Police.

In the wake of a string of legislative bans of facial recognition surveillance in the US, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Somerville, Big Brother Watch is calling for an “urgent ban” in the UK.

The Football Supporters’ Association Wales intends to protest the police monitoring at this weekend’s match with Big Brother Watch.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “Police repeatedly targeting football fans with this new and dangerous mass surveillance tool treats them like suspects, erodes public freedoms and wastes public money. South Wales Police are acting like big brother and seem tone deaf to public concerns.

“We’ll keep fighting facial recognition surveillance until it’s use is ended. It’s one of the most extreme surveillance technologies in the world and has no place in Britain. Government should urgently issue a ban on police and private companies monitoring the public with this authoritarian surveillance technology.”

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Vince Alm, spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Association Wales, said: “It’s unbelievable that police are targeting us with facial recognition surveillance again. Fans coming out for a local football match, including hundreds of families and children, will be treated like they’re in a police line up and have their faces scanned without their consent.

“We protested against it in October and we’ll protest again. We shouldn’t be made to feel like criminals just for going to a football match.”

Arfon Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales, said: “It’s disproportionate to use facial recognition technology to take pictures of supporters at football matches. It’s a step too far and creates the potential for miscarriages of justice.

“I’m sure there are people from North Wales who will be going down to the game and risk having pictures taken of them without their consent. I have a responsibility to represent them and to oppose fishing expeditions that invade their privacy.”

Duncan MacRae

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