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Police criticised for plans to use facial recognition cameras at Cardiff v Swansea match

Credit: PA Images

South Wales Police has been criticised for its plans to use live facial recognition surveillance at this Sunday’s Cardiff City v Swansea City football match.

Fans, rights campaigners and a Police and Crime Commissioner say the plans are “a step too far”.

South Wales Police used the surveillance technology last October at another match between the two sides, attracting protests from fans.

A heavy police presence at the last game between Swansea City and Cardiff City in October Credit: PA Images

Use of facial recognition cameras is currently being challenged in two separate human rights cases that claim the surveillance breaches privacy rights.

One challenge is being brought by civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch and Green peer Baroness Jenny Jones against the Metropolitan Police – who have since paused use of the technology; a further challenge is being pursued by Dr Ed Bridges against South Wales Police.

The 36-year-old argued that the force's use of the technology caused him "distress" and violated his privacy and data protection rights by processing an image taken of him in public.

The technology is being used for the second leg of the South Wales derby Credit: PA Images

It’s disproportionate to use facial recognition technology to take pictures of supporters at football matches. It’s a step too far and creates the potential for miscarriages of justice.

I’m sure there are people from North Wales who will be going down to the game and risk having pictures taken of them without their consent. I have a responsibility to represent them and to oppose fishing expeditions that invade their privacy.

– Arfon Jones, Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales

South Wales Police say the measures keep football fans safe.

It said those who have previously been convicted of offences at football matches are on the official "watch list" and all have valid banning orders in place.

The technology uses special cameras to scan the structure of faces in a crowd of people

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.

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.

– Assistant Chief Constable Andy Valentine, South Wales Police

In the wake of a string of legislative bans of facial recognition surveillance in the US, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Somerville, the pressure group Big Brother Watch is calling for an “urgent ban” in the UK.

The Football Supporters’ Association Wales intends to protest the police monitoring at this weekend’s match with Big Brother Watch.

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 concerns.

– Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch

The Football Supporters’ Association Wales said it would once again protest against the technology being used at football matches.

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.

We protested against it in October and we’ll protest again. We shouldn’t be made to feel like criminals just for going to a football match.

– Vince Alm, spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Association Wales