(May 16, 2019) When you hear Ophir Revach explain the technology that can be used to combat antisemitism and racism in football stadia, it sounds like something from a James Bond movie.
Revach is chief executive of the European Jewish Congress’ Security and Crisis Centre (SACC), a team of security experts specialising in smart surveillance.
Their focus has been on preparing synagogues and Jewish schools across Europe for security crises, but they are now calling on Premier League clubs to use the technology to combat antisemitism and racism in stadia.
SACC use automated monitoring of social media to identify individuals who could pose a threat to Jewish communities. Open-source intelligence is gathered, a photo is verified, and then smart cameras equipped with facial-recognition software can immediately locate the person if they arrive at a venue. Such a process is a huge leap forward from traditional CCTV cameras, with individuals pre-identified and instantly picked out by smart cameras.
Revach has seen new technology transform SACC’s work in protecting Jewish sites and wants Premier League clubs to use it to stamp out antisemitism and racism in grounds.
“You must prevent these people coming to the stadium and this is the only way” he tells Standard Sport.
“I will give you an example: if you want to fight terrorists, you must stop them before they start an attack. You must start at the source, you must monitor activity on social media.
“It is the same with fighting against antisemites and racists in football. We can prevent them coming into the stadium by starting at the source, by monitoring social media. When they are in the stadium, it is too late.”
Revach has seen such a system work last year when it prevented a march in Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day, November 11, from being infiltrated by Neo-Nazis. Monitoring of social media allowed individuals to be identified early and stopped at various points, such as airports, meaning the march went ahead without the presence of white supremacist banners, which had been seen the year before.
The use of cameras with facial-recognition capabilities has caused controversy, however, and on Tuesday San Francisco became the first US city to ban their use by the transport authority and law enforcement. Critics point to their use being an invasion of people’s privacy and civil rights, but SACC does not believe its use in football can be viewed in the same way.
It understands how people’s concerns about a ‘police state’ could apply if the technology was being used to shut down political dissent or free expression, but this concerns preventing antisemitic and racist abuse at matches and SACC believes this system could be revolutionary.
In December, Raheem
Sterling was racially abused during Manchester City’s match at Chelsea and Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a banana skin thrown at him during the north London derby.
In March, England players were subjected to monkey chants during their match in Montenegro, which prompted Spurs defender Danny Rose to confess he cannot wait to retire.
Revach has been watching from afar and believes that if a Premier League club follow SACC’s lead, it can stamp out such behaviour.
SACC software is programmed to monitor antisemitic and racist behaviour on social media.
Incidents automatically generate a report containing an image of the individual involved, which is verified using other databases and then shared with centralised control rooms, where images are uploaded to smart cameras set up in key locations.
The result is a digital line of defence — cameras that can identify and locate specific individuals using state-of-the-art facial-recognition software.
By replicating these methods, Revach argues that clubs could identify an individual who has sent a racist tweet and prevent them from entering a match if and when they turn up. At that point, police can make arrests if an offence has been committed.
To be fully operational, a club would need to build a central control room and install around 30 to 40 cameras. That would set them back around £380,000, with a yearly maintenance fee of around £38,000.
Crucially, SACC has offered to help clubs identify security companies who could install and run this technology. In a crowded market place, their expertise would save clubs time and money.
SACC stands to make no money if a club installs the system — it is a philanthropic organisation — but it wants to help because it has seen how the technology has protected Jewish sites.
It is being used at football matches in Israel to root out hooliganism and racism and for Revach it is a no-brainer for the wider football community to follow suit.
“In the future, this can ensure football is something for all the family,” he says. “It is going to be a family activity, clean from racism, antisemitism and hooligans. Football is a mirror of society and society is a mirror of football.
“The message of the game is very important. Football must be clean from antisemitism and racism.”
The use of cameras with facial-recognition capabilities has sparked debate over whether they are an invasion of people’s civil rights.
On Tuesday, San Francisco became the first US city to ban facial-recognition software and local agencies, such as the transport authority and law enforcement, cannot use it. Additionally, any plans to buy any kind of new surveillance technology must be approved by city administrators.
“Other cities should take note and set up similar safeguards to protect people’s safety and civil rights,” said Matt Cagle from the American Civil Liberties Union in Northern California.
In the UK, some people have been equally hostile to the use of facial-recognition software and argue it is an invasion of privacy.
In contrast, SACC argues that the use of facial-recognition technology can be justified if it is deployed to identify security threats and prevent antisemitic and racist incidents. In the context of football, the sole purpose of the technology is to keep racism out of stadia, not to limit free expression.
In the UK, the police carry out social-media monitoring and use this information to pre-emptively arrest individuals likely to cause a public-order offence. SACC’s recommendations are a further development in preventative security and, in SACC’s view, offer a less labour intensive and more strategic approach to preventing racism and hate crime.
According to SACC, facial-recognition technology should only be used to create a safer environment for the public, not to invade people’s privacy.