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Facial recognition at Cardiff City v Swansea City

Statement in response to comments by Big Brother Watch, Football Supporters’ Association Wales and North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones


Sunday, January 12 sees Cardiff City FC play Swansea City FC at Cardiff City Stadium in their second match of the season following their previous match at Liberty Stadium back in October.  As with the previous match, we will be deploying our facial recognition technology at key areas ahead of the match to assist in identifying those have been issued with banning orders and may attempt to attend the game.

Only those who have previously been convicted of offences at football matches are on the watch list and all have valid banning orders in place.  Our watch list, as always, is event-specific and is only being used to reduce the threat of or likelihood of disorder. 

Our facial recognition technology does not retain biometric data or images of people whose faces may have been scanned. The data and/or imagery is immediately and automatically deleted.  The data is not available to the system operator or any other police officers.   

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Valentine said: “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.

“Football banning orders are issued by the court to those who have misbehaved at a previous football game and hence this provides us with a clear rational in our strategy to prevent any crime and disorder.

“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.

South Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Alun Michael said: “It is extremely disappointing that Arfon Jones has launched a criticism of South Wales Police based on a lack of understanding of both the technology and the extensive scrutiny that has been provided in respect of the deployment of facial recognition in ways which protect the public while respecting the law and our traditions of upholding civil liberties. 

“It is particularly disappointing that the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Wales has never discussed this issue with me as I would have been able to point out the failings in his understanding and would have explained how the deployment is in the best interests of genuine football fans.

“Over the years it has often been difficult for parents to consider taking their sons and daughters to high-profile football matches because of fears of violence caused by a minority of fans who have been more interested in pursuing conflict that in what happens on the football pitch.

“South Wales Police have been at the forefront of making football grounds safe places for the public, and Banning Orders were introduced to enable genuine fans to enjoy watching football in safety and confidence. They are only fully effective when they are enforced.  At the recent match in Swansea facial recognition technology was deployed to identify individuals in breach of such a court order and therefore banned from attending the game.  There was absolutely no retention of images of the general public who were attending the match. 

“It’s important to note that CCTV surveillance does involve retaining recorded images for up to 30 days but that is not the case with facial recognition technology.  Facial recognition is used to identify individuals who are on a watch list – in this case people who are included specifically because they have been issued with a banning order by the courts to protect genuine supporters. Other than individuals on that list no images of the general public are retained and the data is immediately deleted.

“It is incomprehensible that Arfon Jones should not support measures which keep football fans safe and able to attend games confident and secure in the knowledge that everything is being done to keep them safe.  

“The statements made by Arfon have been littered with inaccuracies in respect of both the technology and the law, and it is very sad that he has used his office to spread misinformation in this way.  Not only has the High Court found that the use of facial recognition technology by South Wales Police to be legal and justified, its deployment is also subject to intense scrutiny by myself as Police and Crime Commissioner and by a number of independent bodies including our joint ethics committee, Government-appointed commissioners and through open engagement with the public where the technology has been deployed.  

“There has not been one single wrongful arrest as a result of the use of facial recognition by South Wales Police, whereas there have been numerous successes in apprehending criminals who were wanted for some very serious offences including sexual offences, serious assaults and burglary.  This particular deployment is very specific and follows the principle that prevention of violence is better than having to respond after violence has happened. That is in the best interests of football fans and the reputation of the sport itself.”