Anger over use of facial recognition at south Wales football derby

Protest held before Cardiff v Swansea as fans say technology is taking away their rights

Football supporters and civil rights activists have expressed anger and concern over the use of facial recognition technology for a derby match in south Wales.

Two surveillance vans equipped with the controversial technology were seen patrolling around Cardiff City’s stadium before the club’s game against Swansea City on Sunday. Some fans donned masks, wore sunglasses and hoods, or wrapped scarves around their faces to disguise their appearances.

A protest organised by the campaign group Big Brother Watch and Cardiff City supporters’ club took place outside the stadium before kick-off and a banner was unfurled inside during the Championship game reading: “No facial recognition.”

“It feels as if our rights are being taken away,” said Anthony Moore, a former soldier and Cardiff fan of more than 40 years. He arrived for the game wearing a skeleton mask. “It feels as if every single person is under scrutiny now. I haven’t seen trouble here for 10 years.”

Another masked protester, who identified himself only as James, said: “It’s intimidating. The authorities that are there to protect us are attacking our rights.

“Football has made massive steps. The police do a wonderful job, but this is one step beyond. We’re becoming the most watched city in Europe. I think we need more boots on the ground rather than cameras.”

Two vans with facial recognition technology were seen. One was parked for half an hour opposite the Admiral Napier pub, a popular meeting place for Cardiff fans 10 minutes’ walk from the ground.

A van was also seen patrolling Sloper Road, one of the main routes to the stadium, before the match, which finished 0-0.

Members of Big Brother Watch handed out leaflets warning fans about the vans. The leaflet explained that faces were being scanned and their identity checked against a database. It claimed that research had found that facial recognition often misidentified black people.

Vince Alm, of Cardiff supporters’ club, said: “I think the use of this technology is disproportionate to the risk this game poses. It infringes on people’s right to privacy. I think there’s an ulterior motive – South Wales police are trialling it and they think they can get away with using it at football matches.”

The protest was good-humoured, with masked fans singing, “We’re Cardiff City, you can’t see our eyes” in front of the statue of the club’s FA Cup-winning captain, Fred Keenor.

Richard Duckfield, who was attending the game with his daughter, Georgia, said: “Football fans are persecuted. We’re treated as if we’re guilty unless proven innocent, rather than the other way round.”

Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said football fans were being treated as guinea pigs. “The police think they can get away with treating fans like this and the rest of society won’t mind,” she said.

Before the game, one of the most senior law and order figures in Wales, the police and crime commissioner for north Wales, Arfon Jones, criticised the use of the technology. “It’s a step too far and creates the potential for miscarriages of justice,” he said.

South Wales police’s assistant chief constable, Andy Valentine, said the force was deploying the technology to prevent offences by individuals wanted for questioning for football-related offences, or people who had been convicted of football-related criminality and are subject to banning orders.

He said the data of all those captured by the technology on Sunday who were not on the “watch list” would be instantaneously deleted.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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