Facial scans to curb hooliganism sparks controversy

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern’s Minister of the Interior, Lorenz Caffier, suggests the use of facial scans to get rid of hooligans in German stadiums. However, the technology might cause more damage than good.

Hansa Rostock fans may be the first to suffer the initial testing of the new system that would scan their faces before they enter the stadium, if the presented plan is implemented. Mecklenburg Vorpommern’s minister of the Interior Lorenz Caffier emphasised, when questioned by Spiegel, that it was important to keep ”chaos” out of German stadiums in order to avoid riots at football matches. The facial scanners Caffier would have pictures of 13 000 troublemakers in their database, and will compare those pictures to the face that they are scanning. This should allow clubs to deny entry to known “troublemakers” before the match kicks off.

Initial tests of the technology Caffier is advocating for were run at the Wildpark in Karlsruhe last summer. The ”Karlsruher Institute für Technologie” wanted its cameras to use newly developed biometric technology to pick out certain individuals from the crowd. However, when the technology was tested during three home matches of the KSC the scanners didn’t fare too well, and the institute concluded that this test run was a failure. The technology Caffier wants to use in German stadiums might still be highly flawed according to experts Spiegel has spoken to, and possibly lead to situations where fans are wrongly identified as hooligans by the scanners.

The German police are currently employing police hooligan spotters, whose task is to avoid hooligans getting access to football matches in German stadiums. Michael Noetzel, a member of the ”Work group for the lawyers of football fans” told the online version of 11 Freunde that these spotters ”are more accurate and more effective than any face scanner”, and added that the database Caffier wants to use to exclude troublemakers from football grounds included the names and pictures of many individuals who at the current moment aren’t banned from watching football games.

German football fans aren’t amused about the proposed measures by Mr. Caffier as well. Gerd Dembowski, speaker for the German fan alliance, told Spiegel:

”It is shameful for every democracy, if measures of this kind are considered to be viable options.”

The speaker for the community of German fan projects, Mathias Stein, classified Caffier’s suggestion in the ”Neuen Osnabrücker Zeitung” as populist and senseless, stating:

”Going by Mr. Caffier’s logic, the next step would be to require fans to bring a police clearance certificate to all the matches.”

Furthermore, Stein added that the numbers of trouble makers at German grounds were minimal.

More policy, more crime

The November issue of the German football magazine 11 Freunde went far in suggesting that the upward spiral of fan violence has been caused by steps taken by the German police. The article ”Das Ende der Eskalation”(The end of escalation) by Christoph Biermann and Ron Ulreich points out that the number of registered violent incidents where charges were pressed at German football grounds has increased by roughly the same amount as the number of police officers put on the ground during a match day in the Bundesliga. Criminologist Thomas Feltes is quoted in the article saying that these statistics ”simply prove that the police are doing their work.”

However, there isn’t any statistic available showing how many of these cases have actually lead to a guilty sentence.

Politicians struggling to deal with hooliganism

The attempt by politicians to rid German football of fan violence is not a new development. Mr. Caffier’s colleague in Saxony, Markus Ulbig has tried to deal with a number of fan groups that have caused trouble for Dynamo Dresden. He shares with the club such ideas to curb extreme behavior as introducing the use of personalized tickets and making it obligatory for stadium offenders to meet their parole officer on match days.

Ulbig is still in support of personalized tickets, telling Spiegel Online:

”It’s important to enact all stadium bans, and to use personalized tickets for risk games on a federal level is a decisive factor. We will, of course, discuss Mr. Caffier’s suggestion on the next conference for the ministers of the interiors.”

The German police union and the DFL have both condemned Caffier’s suggestions. The first conference for the Minister of the Interiors from the different states will take place at the end of May or beginning of June.

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Niklas Wildhagen

Niklas is a 32-year-old football writer and podcaster who has been following the Bundesliga and German football since the early 90s. You can follow him on Twitter, @normusings, and listen to his opinions on @TalkingFussball.

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