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Scottish football grounds could be the first places in the UK to install facial recognition technology as the game’s authorities renew efforts to tackle hooliganism and sectarianism.

Officials from the Scottish Professional Football League have already met civil servants to discuss the installation of the latest surveillance cameras at all 42 stadiums in the country, at an estimated cost of £4 million. An alternative £2 million scheme would involve the technology being deployed in only the 22 clubs in the top two leagues.

The SPFL said that its member clubs were absolutely committed to addressing unacceptable conduct. “Recognising that certain behaviours are for society to face and address as a whole, we believe football can take a leading role in moving this issue forward for Scottish society,” a spokesman said.

Advocates of facial recognition cameras believe that they could be used to identify people guilty of violence, offensive singing and any other prohibited behaviour.

One proposal envisages the creation of a database of antisocial fans who would be banned from all Scottish grounds. With their portraits circulated around the country, it would fall to individual clubs to ensure that these fans were unable to gain access to matches.

League officials believe that the scheme could prove effective in tackling the kind of disorder that recently involved Celtic, Rangers and Dundee United supporters. An insider said: “It is a big sum of money, but when the issue has been running for so long, and is such a big concern, many people will support this move.”

Last night the proposals were criticised by supporters’ groups. Simon Barrow, the chairman of the Scottish Football Supporters’ Association, said the football authorities should consult carefully with fans “rather than making them feel under accusation”.

Fans Against Criminalisation, which is opposed to the 2012 Offensive Behaviour at Football and Threatening Communications (Scotland) Act, took to social media to denounce “another draconian development as the war on football fans continues”. The groups tweeted: “Facial recognition software for football fans? Is this really the kind of country we want to live in? #PoliceState #FansNotCriminals.”

Details of the plan emerged at SPFL’s quarterly meeting at Hampden Park, Glasgow, in a report from the league’s “unacceptable conduct working group”.

The discussion comes at a sensitive time for Police Scotland. The police watchdog is already investigating the force’s use of “facial search” technology, amid claims that the force was embarking on “mass surveillance”.

Announcing its inquiry in August, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in Scotland said that the national force had used the technology on 494 occasions. Its report is expected at the end of the month.

Alison McInnes MSP, the Lib Dem justice spokeswoman, said there was no strong case for introducing the technology at football grounds. “We know that this technology has outpaced the regulations in place to protect our privacy,” Ms McInnes said. “The overwhelming majority of people attending football matches will be guilty of nothing at all.

“Until we know how these images will be used and what steps will be taken to ensure that personal information is protected fully the case for extending the use of this technology remains weak.”

A Scottish government spokesman said: “We look forward to football authorities setting out firm proposals on what robust action they’re going to take to tackle unacceptable behaviour.”

Andy McGowan
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