A Soccer Team In Denmark Is Using Facial Recognition To Stop Unruly Fans Past matches between archrivals Brondby and Copenhagen have resulted in mayhem and arrests. So the Brondby team has begun screening fans to make sure banned spectators aren't allowed in the stadium.
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A Soccer Team In Denmark Is Using Facial Recognition To Stop Unruly Fans

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A Soccer Team In Denmark Is Using Facial Recognition To Stop Unruly Fans

A Soccer Team In Denmark Is Using Facial Recognition To Stop Unruly Fans

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This month on All Tech Considered, we're looking at how easy it's become to track people. And one reason - facial recognition technology.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: They've been called hooligans, though they're officially known as active supporters. Either way, diehard fans of Denmark's Brondby soccer team have a reputation for being rowdy, sometimes even violent. So team officials are using facial recognition software to cut down on stadium brawls. Sidsel Overgaard reports from just outside Copenhagen.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: It's a cold but sunny day on the outskirts of Copenhagen, and dozens of men dressed in black - a few with face masks - are gathered outside Brondby Stadium, fists in the air, shouting about how their team will soon beat - and beat up - the arch enemy, FC Copenhagen.

UNIDENTIFIED BRONDBY ACTIVE FANS: (Chanting in foreign language).

OVERGAARD: My attempted photo of the group gets a gloved hand in the face and a security guard scurrying over with concern.

UNIDENTIFIED SECURITY GUARD: (Foreign language spoken).

OVERGAARD: OK.

"Don't film them," she says. "It'll end badly. They don't want to be recognized."

Ironically, this would-be anonymous group has become the target of one of the first large-scale facial recognition systems approved for private use under Europe's strict data protection laws.

Chant over, the group moves towards the stadium entrance where they, along with 21,000 other fans, will be asked to remove masks, hats and glasses so a computer can scan their faces, compare it to a list of banned troublemakers and determine whether they can get in. Since being launched a few months ago, the system has caught four people on the watchlist.

MARTIN LUND: I think it's great. I think it's OK.

OVERGAARD: Martin Lund is here with his kids.

M LUND: We're here to enjoy the game. We're here to have a nice time. We're here to shout at the opponent. But we're not here to fight. And if people want to fight, they shouldn't come to the game.

OVERGAARD: Lund says that while the idea of facial recognition technology gives him pause, he trusts that here it's being used well.

M LUND: You can't do anything in Denmark without getting the proper approval. So it's not being misused. You can't do that in Denmark.

OVERGAARD: Brondby's security chief, Mickel Lauritsen, says getting this system approved did involve government regulators, team lawyers, the software company and fan input.

MICKEL LAURITSEN: It was a long process. It took us about 2 1/2, three years to get in place.

OVERGAARD: And now that it's here, Lauritsen says he's very careful to stay within the prescribed boundaries. That means pictures of those on the watchlist are entered into the system on game day and deleted again at the end of the day. The system is not connected to the Internet. And there's a cross-check to avoid false positives. Lauritsen says at one point, the police asked him to enter a suspect's picture into the system to help with an investigation, and he said no because that is not part of the deal.

LAURITSEN: I know if I misuse the system, I'm not allowed to do anything with it going forward. And then we'll be restricted in what we can do even further than we are now. So I'm not going to misuse the system or misuse the trust we've been given.

OVERGAARD: Still, that's not enough reassurance for everyone. Jesper Lund is chairman of the IT-Political Association of Denmark. He says it's a slippery slope from one facial recognition system to the next. And he believes it's a tool that should be reserved for rare situations involving terrorism or serious crime.

JESPER LUND: Using this very invasive and error-prone technology for something like making sure that persons on a banned list cannot go to a football match is really not proportionate. So in my opinion, this should never have been allowed by the Danish DPA.

OVERGAARD: But he acknowledges this is a tough fight. Everyone I talked to at the Brondby Stadium expressed some version of it's inevitable. And in that light, says IT law professor Henrik Udsen, the best thing any country can do is have the conversation.

HENRIK UDSEN: The important part here is that we have these discussions and we are taking both advantages and risks into account when we decide what to do because there are no necessary right and wrong answers here.

OVERGAARD: In the U.S., it's a conversation that so far has been happening on the local and state level and is usually about how government uses the technology, not so much the private sector. But now there are several bills pending in Congress to regulate facial recognition, and some have bipartisan support.

For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark.

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