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Privacy International warns that biometrics at sports stadiums infringe on human rights

Privacy International warns that biometrics at sports stadiums infringe on human rights

The use of facial recognition at sports stadiums and arenas represents a threat to people’s rights to privacy and to participate in sporting life, according to Privacy International.

The privacy advocacy group has written a letter to the UN Special Rapporteur in response to a call for input “on the right to participate in sports.”

The letter seems more focused on the comfort level of people attending entertainment events at privately-owned facilities than the rights of downtrodden people to play sports, however. In the former case, pricey tickets come with terms and conditions, which allow the search of attendee’s bags and pockets to prevent people from carrying weapons into crowded events. In the latter case, people living in refugee camps may be dissuaded from using a playing field by the use of security cameras.

PI argues that attending big-league games as a spectator is a form of sports participation, which the group refers to as part of “the cultural life of our communities.”

PI cites Comparitech’s count that facial recognition is used at a quarter of the top 100 soccer stadiums in the world.

“Attending sporting events can be incredibly formative experiences in people’s lives around the world,” Privacy International writes.

“To be able to do this, people need to be free from the looming threat of surveillance, and the explicit and implicit burdens of that.”

Expressions of free speech by athletes like U.S. sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos, NFL player Colin Kaepernick and people wearing rainbow accessories at the Sochi Winter Games to protest anti-gay laws are examples of resistance to oppression which must be protected, PI argues. The CNIL’s ruling that biometric data could not be used to enforce bans on violent individuals under GDPR is cited in the letter to the Special Rapporteur as setting the precedent that facial recognition use in stadiums is against the law. That position is on track to be challenged in other countries, like Italy. Other biometric modalities are also being trialed for stadium entry as well.

The call from the Special Rapporteur for input does not make any clear reference to attending big-league sports as a spectator, however, and PI does not discuss a rights impact from facial recognition on people playing sports, or attending smaller-scale events. There is little doubt that surveillance is increasing at big-league sports events around the world, but the case that participation in sports in contingent on attendance of professional games at big stadiums in left aside.

The letter refers to growth in the use of facial recognition for “ticketing and contactless concessions,” and moves on immediately to its use as a tool “to monitor spectator behaviour,” and does not return to applications that involve 1:1 biometric matches. This the kind of application of face biometrics that has been growing most rapidly at North American sporting events.

Ultimately, PI recommends that the Special Rapporteur address the impact of surveillance on sports participation, urge a prohibition on live facial recognition at sporting events, and ensure surveillance and security systems are introduced with respect for privacy rights and the principles of necessity and proportionality.

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