“South Wales police have confirmed that they will not be using facial recognition technology during the South Wales derby this weekend, which will see a showdown between Cardiff City and Swansea City.”
Police in South Wales have backed away from the use of biometric surveillance security ahead of a major soccer event, suggesting that pushback from civil rights advocates and some football fans may have succeeded in attempting to chill police enthusiasm for facial recognition.
The South Wales Police had first publicly implemented facial recognition-based surveillance in 2017, ahead of an important soccer event in Cardiff. At the time, the police appeared to have been on the lookout for soccer hooligans, with 70,000 visitors expected to arrive at the stadium on the day of the match. From there, the police proceeded to a more general deployment of the biometric technology, applying facial recognition tech to vehicle-mounted camera feeds.
The law enforcement agency would go on to face a legal challenge over its use of facial recognition, brought by a Cardiff resident who believed he has been unlawfully surveilled using the technology. The case was backed by Liberty, a civil rights group; and an initial victory for the police was overturned by an appeals court in 2020 which ruled that police had not been transparent enough in their use of biometric surveillance and watch lists, and that they had not taken adequate measures to prevent demographic bias in the technology’s implementation. That ruling followed protests against the police’ use of the technology by Cardiff City football club fans ahead of a game in the beginning of the year.
Now, the South Wales police have confirmed that they will not be using facial recognition technology during the South Wales derby this weekend, which will see a showdown between Cardiff City and Swansea City. A report from WalesOnline offered no reason given for the police decision.
While privacy advocates will likely cheer the development, it’s far from a clear indication of permanent plans to discontinue the use of facial recognition on the part of the South Wales Police. The aforementioned appeals court ruling did not assert outright that the police force must be prohibited from using the technology; and in responding to the ruling at the time, South Wales Police Chief Constable Matt Jukes called that ruling “a welcome and important step” in the development of biometric surveillance practices, adding that he was confident that it was “a judgment that we can work with.”
It’s also worth noting that an independent study from Cardiff University’s Police Science Institute in 2018 concluded that the facial recognition technology could be an effective aide to more traditional methods of identifying criminal suspects, emphasizing that both approaches must be used together.
October 13, 2021 – by Alex Perala