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Riot police patrol before a football match.

Facial recognition technology used by police at derby football match condemned by fans

Image credit: Dreamstime

A football supporters' association called on fans to wear masks at last weekend's Swansea City vs. Cardiff City derby game to counteract the police's deployment of facial recognition surveillance system at the Liberty Stadium.

When Swansea City and Cardiff City met at the Liberty Stadium last Sunday for their Championship fixture, a fan group encouraged its supporters to wear Halloween masks in an attempt to thwart South Wales Police's intention of using facial recognition technology on visitors at the game. 

Vince Alm, a spokesman for the Football Supporters' Association Wales, said it opposed the use of the technology. Alm told human rights think tank Big Brother Watch before the game that the problem is that "We haven't had a say and we can't opt out”. 

"Thousands of innocent fans who have never committed a crime in their lives, including children, will have their faces scanned and data collected by police", Alm said. "This is completely unnecessary and disproportionate. It's the sort of thing you'd expect to see in a surveillance state".

When South Wales Police vowed to scan football fans with live facial recognition at the football match, it said on Twitter that its watchlist "is event-specific and is only being used to reduce the threat of, or likelihood of, disorder. Those on our watchlist have previously been convicted of offences at football matches and all have valid banning orders not to attend today's game".

With its “robust policing plan”, South Wales Police said it would aid identifying people barred from attending matches.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, which is currently pursuing a crowdfunded legal challenge against the Metropolitan Police and Home Secretary over facial recognition surveillance, commented before the match: “We stand by fans who are rightly alarmed and outraged. The police decision to target them with intrusive mass surveillance treats all fans as suspects, damages trust and is a total waste of public money.

"Police are eroding basic civil liberties whilst politicians look the other way. Live facial recognition has completely failed in the court of public opinion and must be urgently banned".

In September, the High Court rejected a legal challenge launched against the use of automated facial recognition (AFR) technology.

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