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Football use of facial recognition condemned

South Wales Police deployed facial recognition yesterday at the Cardiff City FC versus Swansea City FC, derby match in the Championship. The facial recognition was also used at the return fixture in the autumn.

Civil rights campaigners complained of the ‘new and dangerous mass surveillance tool’. Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “South Wales Police are acting like big brother and seem tone deaf to public concerns. We will keep fighting facial recognition surveillance until its 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.”

Arfon Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for North Wales called it disproportionate, and ‘fishing expeditions’ that invade privacy. This repeated an earlier complaint by the North Wales PCC in November; and as last year the PCC for South Wales, former Labour MP Alun Michael, took issue with the criticism by Arfon Jones (a retired North Wales Police inspector), making the point that there’s no retention of images of the public attending the match, whereas CCTV surveillance does involve retaining recorded images for up to 30 days.

South Wales Police said that the facial recognition ‘at key areas’ before the match was to assist in identifying those have been issued with banning orders and may attempt to attend the game; the watch list was ‘event-specific’. South Wales Assistant Chief Constable Andy Valentine said: “This is only the third time in more than two-and-a-half years that the technology has been utilised at a football match and is intended to prevent disorder that has in the past affected matches involving both clubs.

“We are deploying Automated Facial Recognition to prevent offences by identifying individuals who are wanted for questioning for football-related offences or who have been convicted of football-related criminality and are now subject to football banning orders that preclude them from attending. Football banning orders are issued by the court to those who have misbehaved at a previous football game and hence this provides us with a clear rational in our strategy to prevent any crime and disorder.

“In line with our standard operating procedures, the data of all those captured by the technology on the day, but not on the watch list, will have their data instantaneously deleted. Given the High Court’s findings back in September 2019, and the conclusion that our use of facial recognition technology is legally justified and proportionate, we will continue to deploy the technology whilst continuing to demonstrate our commitment to the ethical and transparent use of Automated Facial Technology.”

On the legal front, Big Brother Watch and Green peer Baroness Jenny Jones are bringing a legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police – who have since paused use of the technology; and a challenge is being brought by Dr Ed Bridges against South Wales Police.

Picture by Mark Rowe; graffiti, Cardiff city centre.


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