UK Police target football fans with facial recognition cameras
13 January 2020 17:09 GMT

Police have vowed to use live facial recognition surveillance at a local football match in Wales – this Sunday’s Cardiff City v Swansea City game. Fans, rights campaigners and a Police and Crime Commissioner have criticised the move as “a step too far”.

South Wales Police used the surveillance technology amidst controversy in October at another match between Cardiff City and Swansea City, attracting protests from fans. Despite the operation producing no facial recognition matches, the force plans to use the tool again when the two teams meet at Cardiff City Stadium.

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.

In the wake of a string of legislative bans of facial recognition surveillance in the US, including in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and Somerville, 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.

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said:

“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.

We will keep fighting facial recognition surveillance until it’s 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.”

Vince Alm, spokesperson for the Football Supporters’ Association Wales, said:

“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.”

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