Taylor Swift fans attending a recent concert had their photos taken and cross-checked using facial recognition technology in an attempt to check that none of the pop star’s known stalkers were attending the show.
Details of the surveillance, which took place at Swift’s May 18 performance at California’s Rose Bowl, were reported by Rolling Stone. Mike Downing, who runs security for the Oak View Group, an advisory board for venues including Madison Square Garden and Los Angeles’ The Forum, told the magazine that the facial recognition camera was embedded within a kiosk playing footage of Swift rehearsing.
As fans stopped to watch the footage, their photographs were taken and transferred to a command post where they were cross-checked against a database of hundreds of Swift's known stalkers to ensure that none matched their physical descriptions. “Everyone who went by would stop and stare at it, and the software would start working,” Downing said. Swift’s team did not respond to a request from Rolling Stone for comment.
Swift has been criticized by Vanity Fair for "[leading] the way in the concert surveillance state," but Quartz points out that concert venues are "typically private locations, meaning even after security checkpoints, its owners can subject concert-goers to any kind of surveillance they want."
Swift has been repeatedly stalked and harassed throughout her career. In April, Julius Sandrock, 38, was arrested outside Swift's home in Los Angeles. He had ammunition, a knife, rope, and gloves in his car when he was apprehended.
Just months later, Eric Swarbrick, 26, was arrested on federal criminal charges after sending letters to Swift’s record labels in which he threatened to rape and kill her. He also threatened to kill himself in front of Swift’s record label CEO, Scott Borchetta, and his staff. Sandrock, who is a former bus driver, is currently awaiting trial in a Nashville jail. If convicted, he could spend up to five years in prison.
Earlier this month, another stalker, Roger Alvarado, 22, pled guilty to attempted burglary and criminal contempt after breaking into Swift’s New York City house. Alvarado was given a six month prison sentence after being found asleep in Swift’s bed in April this year. The Daily Mail reports that Alvarado, who was originally from Florida, will also undergo mental health treatment and serve five years probation.
In 2016, Frank Andrew Hoover was arrested in Austin, Texas, after he breached a protective restraining order Swift had out against him. Although the order required him to remain at least 500 feet away from Swift at all times, Hoover was accused of getting within 25-50 feet from Swift’s motorcade after he followed her entourage as they left a concert venue and drove to an Austin airport.
Swift spoke about her experiences of being stalked in a 2012 UK Cosmopolitan interview. "I get nervous when I have stalker incidents. I try not to talk too much about it because it scares me," she said, before expressing thanks for her personal security team. “That's why I'm so grateful I have people looking after me, like [my bodyguard] Dennis. Over the past couple of years it's gotten worse."
Stalking doesn’t just affect celebrities like Swift, but can happen to people from all walks of life. Earlier this year, Broadly polled over 12,000 people in the UK and found that over a third said they’d been stalked. You can learn more about Broadly’s anti-stalking and domestic abuse campaign, and read all of our coverage, here.