South Wales police heavily criticized for facial recognition use at football derby

South Wales police heavily criticized for facial recognition use at football derby

South Wales police are deploying biometric facial recognition technology at a major football derby between Cardiff City and Swansea City this weekend, a decision that has attracted criticism not only from civil liberties and fan groups, but also from the North Wales police and crime commissioner, writes The Guardian.

Arfon Jones said the measure is “a step too far” and “invasive, disproportionate,” fearing its use “could create miscarriages of justice.” He believes South Wales police is specifically going after football fans and worries fans going to watch the game will have their pictures taken without consent, then entire project turning in fact into “a fishing expedition” that “invade[s] their privacy.”

Jones emphasizes the risk of the technology being biased and discriminatory, giving the example of a previous deployment at the Champions’ League final at the Millennium Stadium when facial recognition had a high number of false positives.

“There have also been concerns about its effectiveness, especially so with members of the BAME community, and I don’t know if these have been satisfactorily addressed,” Jones added.

“Since the Champions’ League we have come a long way. The algorithm that we used then is different, it’s improved and we’re just about to look at another one,” said South Wales Police Deputy Chief Constable Richard Lewis last year following appeals to court rulings that the use is justified. “More importantly, our understanding of how the system is deployed – how we place the van, the camera sensitivity, the processing power of the computer – have all improved. That deployment was our first in mass crowds and that was a huge learning curve for us.”

In September 2019, the Cardiff high court ruled that the use of biometric facial recognition by South Wales police interferes with the privacy rights of those scanned, but is still legal.

Andy Valentine, South Wales police’s assistant chief constable, said the technology has only been used three times in almost three years and the unit is deploying it “to prevent offences by individuals who are wanted for questioning for football-related offences or have been convicted of football-related criminality and are now subject to football banning orders that preclude them from attending.”

Valentine believes this strategy will help reduce crime and disorder. He assured the data of individuals who are not on the watch list will be deleted immediately.

The Football Supporters’ Association Wales, on the other hand, disagrees and feels fans are treated like criminals.

“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,” said Vince Alm, the association’s spokesman.

Privacy advocate Big Brother Watch is pushing for a ban on facial recognition surveillance in the UK.

“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 concern,” said Silkie Carlo, the organization’s director.

“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.”

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