Biometric Surveillance Creeping Into the NBA

Multifactor Biometrics

Privacy has become one of the biggest topics in identity management this year, playing a major role in the Biometrics UnPlugged and GIS 2014 conferences.

A new ESPN article by Pablo S. Torre puts a spotlight on the fast-moving integration of biometric technology into team management in the NBA. Noting the league’s increasingly technocratic culture with respect to data analytics, Torre speculates about a potentially Orwellian future for sports management.

At the moment, the technological state of player management in the NBA is pretty uncontroversial. High-speed cameras have been installed in NBA arenas to monitor player movement, and some teams have begun to wear GPS trackers that monitor their fatigue. The concern is that further biometric technologies might be adopted to monitor athletes’ activity off-court, to see how their behavior in their personal lives is affecting their performance in the game. It could lead to some major violations of players’ privacy and autonomy.

Tellingly, Sacramento Kings manager Pete D’Alessandro is quoted in the piece as saying that team managers “need to be able to have an impact on these players in their private time” – already in an essentially exploitative relationship with their players, team owners and managers are liable to push as far as they can to monitor and regulate the activity of their players. Meanwhile, the National Basketball Players Association is struggling to keep pace with these advancements, having not yet stated a position on the issue.

The full article is available now on ESPN’s website, and will appear in the October 27 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

October 8, 2014 – by Alex Perala