Sports leagues could soon employ facial recognition technology at arenas

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Sports fans may soon need to submit to facial scans if they want to enter big-league arenas and stadiums, raising questions about how much privacy people are willing to part with in exchange for added security.

Former U.S. Secret Service Agent Mike Verden tells TSN’s Rick Westhead that while he won’t “get into specifics,” the technology is already being used at some stadiums.

He says it’s only a matter of time before the leagues like the NHL embrace the software, which measures things like distances between facial features and then checks it against databases of potential criminals or terrorists.

“Hockey in Canada is a symbol of the nation,” Verden says. “If (terrorists) were to do something of some grand scale … at a hockey game, they would achieve their objectives, which is to instill fear and intimidation.”

Peter Trepp, who runs California-based facial recognition software company FaceFirst, says that “all of the leagues are taking this seriously right now.”

“People are feeling like they want to have a level of safety when they”re in a public place,” he said.

Trepp points out that video cameras are not very useful at preventing suicide attacks, which have targeted stadiums in recent years.

For example, in May, Islamist extremist Salman Ramadan Abedi detonated a nail bomb inside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 other people and injuring 250.

In November, 2015, three Islamic State attackers targeted France’s national soccer stadium. All three bombers exploded their suicide vests outside the stadium after a security pat down detected the first bomber’s suicide vest. One person was killed by that first bomber and 129 more were killed in related attacks including at the Bataclan theatre.

But Ann Cavoukian, Ontario’s former privacy commissioner, has concerns that innocent people could be flagged erroneously by the software and branded terrorists or criminals.

“That could be you,” she says, adding, “trying to clear your name is extremely difficult.”

With a report from TSN’s Rick Westhead

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