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Spanish data authority opposes facial recognition for football stadium access

Spanish data authority opposes facial recognition for football stadium access

Authorities running LaLiga, Spain’s top tier football league, announced last year they will deploy a facial recognition system at stadiums for fan access, but the plan is being seriously questioned by the country’s data protection authority.

LaLiga issued a tender to pick a contractor for the stadium facial recognition project in October, as reported then by Economia Digital.

According to the Spanish Data Protection Agency (AEPD), the processing of biometric data raises the need for a thorough review of related governance, legislative and technical aspects.

The body has also recommended that any attempt to deploy the technology must meet data protection impact assessment requirements in line with GDPR, the country’s Data Protection Act as well as the Constitution, otherwise LaLiga would be exposing itself to sanctions. Sufficient consultations, according to the body, must also be conducted to so as to minimize any negative impact.

The AEPD, meanwhile, has suggested that the football league should resort to alternative and less invasive methods to achieve the same fan and player safety goals.

In the meantime, StadiumDB, a publication dedicated to football stadiums, opines in a report that the motivation behind the move by LaLiga is “noble” but the execution is poor, describing league authorities as being “so careless in introducing such far-reaching solutions.”

It recalls a previous instance in 2019 when LaLiga was involved in a data privacy issue with users of the official LaLiga app, resulting in a €250,000 (US$272,000) fine.

The challenge against the plan by Spanish LaLiga authorities to deploy a facial recognition system for fan access at stadiums comes at a time when a study commissioned by the global footballers’ union, FIFPRO, points to technologies such as facial recognition as one of the best ways of tackling violence at game venues, which is said to be increasingly endangering the safety of players and fans of the beautiful game.

Another outlet Techno Lawyer in the meantime underlines the position of the AEDP on the use of biometrics technologies for access control and public safety. It cites the data protection body as emphasizing the need to balance the use of such biometrics technologies with the necessary data protection and security guarantees. It notes that while organizations and businesses look at the practical benefits of deploying facial recognition systems, they have the responsibility to equally carefully study and adequately respond to all legal or social consequences arising therefrom.

The criticism and call-to-order from the AEDP notwithstanding, LaLiga has defended its position saying the sole objective of the project is to improve fan safety.

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