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August 12, 2021

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Wembley Stadium Euros chaos: Could facial recognition have been used to improve security and prevent disorder?

While the FA has already commissioned an independent inquiry into the events that took place at Wembley on the night of the Euro 2020 final, when thousands of fans bypassed security and broke into the stadium, little has been made of the potential physical security technologies may have in preventing future incidents from happening again. Here, Pauline Norstrom, CEO of Anekanta Consulting and Honoury member of the BSIA, explains how automated facial recognition and biometrics could have been used to mitigate against breaches in the security measures.

Could the storming of Wembley at the UEFA Euro 2020 Final have been avoided?  We’ve heard these words echo around the public stage and after the event, the Football Association announced to the UK Government’s Department of Media Culture and Sport, that it has commissioned an independent inquiry to report on the facts and circumstances involved.

Image from Wembley on the day in question. Credit: Jack Bibb

The call for an inquiry follows a line-up of other similar situations where organisers and authorities have been ambushed by a sudden surge or attack.

It appears that a perfect storm of factors led to the turn of events. Emotive elements such as the easing of lockdown restrictions combined with the pride in the team reaching its first major sporting event final in 55 years, caused an unprecedented increase in the number of speculative fans.

It was also known that Wembley would not be full due to COVID restrictions and it has since been widely reported that social media channels were buzzing with a call to action to those inclined to undertake disruptive activities. Analysis of open social media sources using natural language processing-based AI tools can focus the attention of security operators on emerging events. Predictive technologies when used alongside robust human led processes serve to augment knowledge and improve responses to an impending attack.

Research and analysis have previously revealed that pre-event behaviours can be observed and categorised. For example, the early pioneers in video based remote monitoring services determined that prior to a break in, criminals would congregate outside the premises 10-15 minutes prior. These behaviours were classified and built into AIs which automatically detect them. As a result, the effectiveness of the operator was vastly improved, reducing loss and enhancing the value of the service.

Were the issues leading to the storming of Wembley a one off or will the conditions repeat again in the future?

The pandemic will leave a permanent risk factor which must always be mitigated. It is now proven that mass congregation creates a perfect breeding ground. This risk will lead to an acceleration towards the adoption of contactless interaction with otherwise shared surfaces e.g., tickets, menus in restaurants, access keypads and so on.

“Could automated facial recognition technology (AFR) have been used to alleviate the pressure points?”

Examining the Wembley situation in more detail. We consider that arriving at an event without a ticket is not actually a crime, however socially irresponsible given the circumstances. Behaving in a disorderly way, intimidating, and assaulting people and damaging property are crimes whether a fan has a ticket or not. The issue is more complex than what may appear as a singular problem caused by un-ticketed fans.

Nevertheless, the huge numbers of un-ticketed fans overwhelmed the physical measures on the day.

Could automated facial recognition technology (AFR) have been used to alleviate the pressure points? Facial recognition software is an AI based image data analytics tool used to determine and verify the identity of individuals using their facial biometric data. It is best known when used ethically and safely in a regulated way as a means of mobile payment authentication.

This is an immensely powerful technology which if used in an uncontrolled way could identify people without their consent, and in doing so breach their right to privacy. Such are the concerns around its potential misuse, the European Commission plans to restrict facial recognition technology as a remote surveillance tool to specific authorised law enforcement scenarios.

Firm strides are being taken towards creating clarity and education around the safe use of the technology in all scenarios. In June 2021 the UK Information Commissioner’s Office published its opinion on the use of facial recognition technology in public places, and prior to this in February 2021, the BSIA published its guide to its ethical and legal use.

WembleyStadium-21

Due to perceived regulatory risks and maybe a lowest cost bid approach to procurement, this may not have been the first choice over other methods of augmenting human knowledge and decision making in a rapidly escalating situation.

After the event: Retrospective identification of those responsible

If live intelligence technologies are absent and crimes are committed, forensic review after the event is the only means of catching those responsible. The learnings can also help to guide the use of future methods which may prevent another occurrence. But forensic review does not undo the crimes committed on the day, nor will it undo the damage done to the reputation of the UK as a whole and its bid to host other major global sporting events.

Could there be another perspective to the safe use of facial recognition technology at events?

To assist in the management of ticketed fans, there could be a compelling case for the verification of a ticket holder using face biometrics. For example, when the fan buys their ticket, they could submit their ID and this would generate an association between their face, their ID and the issued ticket.

ID verified ticketing is already in place at many events where the ticket is issued to a named individual and upon entry, the ticket and the ID of the person are manually checked.

It is not a great leap in technology or process to require face verification which is obtained with the expressed and informed consent at the point of purchase. Furthermore, as now the fan must produce the ticket, and scan their COVID pass at entry, an entirely contactless method could be used which automatically allows the verified ticketed fan through the gate.

If this method of ticket issue were utilised at Wembley, when combined with the use of cameras and facial recognition software, it would have been possible to determine wh

facial recognition

ere the ticketed fans were and quickly guide them safely.

If ticketed fans caused the disturbance, they could also be quickly identified. Non-ticketed fans would not be identified, but their location would be easy to determine quickly. Physical measures could have been concentrated on those areas not just to keep the people safe, but also to quickly and automatically deny or allow entry to the stadium.

The awareness of the benefits of the safe and ethical use of facial recognition technology is increasing. Everyone in the UK who has downloaded the NHS app to obtain their COVID Pass, will have been encouraged to use their face or fingerprint biometric to secure the login process. Soon biometric verification will become a more widely accepted practice beyond the digital banking use case. Why not consider extending it to verify ticket holders at major events?

IFSEC Global’s sister site, SHP, has also reported on the events, highlighting concerns over policing as fans sieged Wembley Stadium. 

 

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