Furious Cardiff City supporters plan to demonstrate against the controversial use of facial recognition cameras at the South Wales derby by wearing balaclavas to Sunday’s game.
South Wales Police will use the technology at Cardiff City Stadium to deter potential troublemakers as the Bluebirds’ bitter rivals Swansea City prepare to head to the Welsh capital.
But its implementation has been controversial with many claiming it treats fans like criminals.
It has prompted a backlash from Cardiff’s supporters who plan to protest against the use of the technology by obscuring their faces from the cameras at the ground.
Cardiff City Supporters Club spokesman Vince Alm said: “It is disgraceful for the police to keep picking on football fans. At the end of the day we are abiding by the law and are coming here to be entertained and to support our football team.
“The club have allowed us to do a static demonstration outside the Fred Keenor statue at 11.30am. We are encouraging people to wear masked balaclavas or anything to cover their faces. We will be unrolling a banner and handing leaflets out.
“We will be protesting there between 11.30 and 11.45. We have good backing from Cardiff City Football Club who also believe this is a step too far.
“Anyone is welcome to come along to the demonstration at 11.30 so wear your masks, your balaclavas, and we will all demonstrate outside the Fred Keenor statue.”
Facial recognition technology was used at the first South Wales derby – a fixture which had a long history of violence but has been relatively trouble-free in recent times – earlier this season when Swansea won 1-0 at the Liberty Stadium.
Just five arrests were made that day which represented a significant decrease in the levels of hooliganism and disorder which have characterised past matches between Wales’ biggest clubs.
The technology will be deployed at key areas around Cardiff City Stadium. South Wales Police have said only those fans already on football banning orders will be on their watch list and insist their system does not retain the data of those scanned throughout the day.
Arfon Jones, one of the most senior policing figures in Wales who served as an officer for 30 years, has described the use of facial recognition technology as “disproportionate.”
Jones also warned it could cause miscarriages of justice on those attending the game.
“It was refreshing to hear North Wales Police and Crime Commissioner Arfon Jones backing us as he is somebody who understands where football is now unlike the senior South Wales Police staff who believe football is still like it was in the 1970’s and 1980’s,” Alm said.
But Alun Michael, the South Wales Police crime commissioner, says “ordinary fans” should have no concerns.
“There are people who have been banned by the court from being at the game and we want them to be caught and prevented from being there,” said Michael.
“The vast majority of decent people, who just want to go and see a game of football, can do it and can take their sons and daughters knowing they are safe to do so.
“If your image isn’t that of someone who is on the watch list and is somebody that has been banned by the court, your image is deleted virtually instantaneously.
“There is no question of retention, as there is for instance with CCTV in the street. So ordinary members of the public – decent fans who are coming to watch a football game – need have no concern whatsoever.”
The technology works by using cameras in the stadium to scan faces in the crowd and cross-reference them with existing police photos.
If any possible matches with those handed banning orders are identified, they are quickly flagged to officers. But the police have insisted that images and data of those not on the police watch lists are deleted immediately.