French watchdog warns sports club over facial recognition technology

A French sports club, reportedly Ligue 1 football team Metz, has been warned against the implementation of facial recognition technology to stop people with stadium bans from attending their games.

Metz wasn’t named in a statement released by the CNIL, an independent regulator concerned with data privacy, but the Reuters news agency, citing a source close to the matter, stated it was the club involved.

In January 2020, Metz angered fans’ lobby group ANS by confirming it was experimenting with facial recognition technology at its Stade Saint-Symphorien. At the time, the club claimed the system could also detect weapons, therefore helping in the fight against terrorism.

Under French law, sports clubs are permitted to ban people from their stadia if they are found to have broken rules during previous games. They are allowed to retain the details of banned supporters and refuse to sell tickets to them.

In a statement, the CNIL said its president, Marie-Laure Denis, had issued Metz with a warning, stating its project does not comply with France’s RGPD (General Data Protection Regulation) and Informatique et Libertés act.

The CNIL said: “In the absence of any special legislative or regulatory provision, the implementation of such a device by a sports club for anti-terrorism’ purposes is illegal. The president of the CNIL therefore warned the sports club that in the current state of the legal framework, the envisaged processing cannot be implemented in a lawful manner.

“If, despite this warning, the sports club concerned proceeds with the effective implementation of the facial recognition system, it will be exposed to one or more of the corrective measures provided for by the RGDP and the Informatique et Libertés act, including a financial penalty.”

Image: Matthieu Henkinet/CC BY-SA 4.0/Edited for size