Dutch FA Planning to Use Fingerprint and GPS Technology in Fight Against Football Hooligans

In an attempt to tackle anti-social behaviour at football games, the Dutch FA plans to introduce a device that registers the identity and location of banned fans on match day.

by Jonathan Keane
Sep 19 2016, 3:44pm

PA Images

This story originally appeared on VICE Sports UK.

The Dutch football association, the KNVB, plans to roll out a device that registers the identity and location of banned fans on match day through GPS and biometrics. Using a mix of fingerprint verifiers and GPS coordinates to identify offenders, the scheme is aimed at ensuring banning orders aren't broken.

The KNVB has devised a handheld device similar to a phone, to be built by security firm G4S, that will be distributed to expelled fans. He or she will have to sign in on the device with the fingerprint ID that they have registered, and its GPS feature will then check their location.

"You have to identify yourself three times: [once] during the match, and one time before the match and one time after the match," Hans van Kastel, a spokesperson for the KNVB, told VICE Sports. The banned fan will need to carry the device with them, be responsible for keeping it charged, and will receive a notification when it's time to check in.

It's intended to replace the conventional system whereby banned fans must present themselves at police stations on match day and sign in. Van Kastel describes this as an impractical approach that takes up too much time and resources.

According to the KNVB, there are currently around 1,400 bans in place, ranging from months to years. These sanctions are usually handed out for acts of violence or using fireworks inside grounds.

READ MORE: The Battle of Beverwijk – Dutch Football's Hooligan Nadir

The KNVB trialled the device with volunteers at two clubs as a test run and said the response was positive. The fans who volunteered in the pilot programme had a few months knocked off their bans. Discussions with local clubs and authorities are ongoing over when the new programme can be rolled out fully.

However, this is all potentially sensitive data – so who's handling it? Van Kastel admits that the KNVB is not the ideal party to collect any such information. "That's another discussion that's still running, because we have of course to take privacy into consideration," he said.

René Hiemstra, the director government of G4S Netherlands, explained: "The fingerprint information remains on the device itself. It's not communicated; that information remains there."

According to G4S, the Dutch public prosecutors will provide it with the exact coordinates of where a hooligan is not allowed to be at a certain moment.

"Our monitoring room can only see if he or she is in or outside the designated area and that information is communicated to the public prosecutor who will then take action or not," said Hiemstra. The monitoring room will not see the person's exact location, only that they are not in the off-limits space around a stadium.

The KNVB added that it has seen mostly positive responses from the football clubs, who have struggled to manage stadium bans. A spokesperson for Ajax said the Amsterdam club "fully supports this initiative from the KNVB, as this makes dealing with banning orders easier, especially when this method is also used during international away-matches."

Ajax re-played AZ Alkmaar behind closed doors in 2012, after a fan attacked the AZ goalkeeper during the initial match // PA Images

Currently, Ajax carry out random ID checks at the stadium gates for home games. Fellow Eredivisie side ADO Den Haag have introduced biometrics already, with facial recognition cameras at their home ground.

The KNVB also wants this combination of biometrics and GPS to be mandatory across the board for managing unwanted fans, but its discussions with the government have yet to reach any kind of agreement. "To be honest we hoped it would be accomplished already because the technology is there," van Kastel explained.

"It is a local dicision [sic] from the football clubs with local authorities which instruments work out best according to local circumstances," said the Ministry of Security and Justice in an email statement.

READ MORE: The Criminalisation of Scottish Football Fans

"The Ministry works together with partners to make football safer. The KNVB is of course an important partner and the Ministry also welcomes initiatives such as the biometric plan," the spokesperson added. They would not confirm if the ministry supports a mandatory implementation of the system, however.

The Dutch police force did not respond to requests for comment.

The main selling point for the system to fans is convenience, but the KNVB's proposal isn't the first attempt by a football association or club to manage hooliganism and crime at matches through biometric technology. This plan bears some similarity to the proposed use of facial recognition cameras and software by the Scottish Professional Football League (SPFL), which was met with opposition and derision from fans. In 2014, the Hungarian club Ferencvaros faced fan protests over the introduction of palm vein scanners at its home venue to bolster security.

Whether the KNVB will meet the same kind of opposition when, or if, it becomes fully operational remains to be seen, but the association is determined that it will increase efficiency and safety one way or another.

And, according to Hiemstra, the plan will help prevent further criminality at football grounds. "In the Netherlands prevention is a big thing," he said. "We believe in trying to prevent crime [rather] than trying to solve crime. You could see this as that type of measure."