Facial recognition technology has been slowly colonizing all kinds of public and private spaces, from airports to department stores. Now, a coalition of musicians and activists are calling for a ban on invasive face-scanning at concert venues and music festivals.
Digital rights advocacy group Fight For the Future is spearheading the campaign, which calls out Ticketmaster and its parent company, Live Nation. Last year, the company announced it will begin deploying facial recognition at its live events, having customers walk past face-scanning cameras instead of presenting a ticket.
Citing dangers to fans in the form of police harassment, misidentification, and discrimination at concerts, artists including Speedy Ortiz, The Glitch Mob, and Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello have joined activists to call for a ban on face surveillance at live events.
“Facial recognition surveillance is uniquely dangerous. It doesn’t keep fans or artists safe, it just subjects them to invasive, racially biased monitoring that will inevitably lead to fans getting harassed, falsely arrested, deported, or worse," said Evan Greer, Fight For the Future’s deputy director, in an emailed statement. "We're calling on all artists to stick up for their fans' basic rights and safety by speaking out against the use of Big Brother style biometric surveillance at live music events."
Although the practice is not yet commonplace, facial recognition has already been used at high-profile music and sporting events around the world. Taylor Swift infamously deployed face-scanning tech at her 2018 Rose Bowl performance, in order to search the crowd for “known stalkers” of the pop star. A month earlier, Chinese police used facial recognition to arrest a man at a concert for the pop star Jackie Cheung, identifying him within a crowd of around 60,000 fans.
U.S. companies have flirted with using facial recognition at large events for years, including one notable trial run at the Super Bowl all the way back in 2001. Jetblue has adopted face recognition boarding on some of its international flights, making dubious claims about time-saving and customer convenience. The use of face recognition technology for convenience, such as at a sporting event, concert, or airport, also normalizes a technology that police want to use for mass surveillance.
But face recognition isn’t a localized technology. It is a surveillance ecosystem that encompasses and interlinks all kinds of databases and use cases—including those that have historically been utilized to target and discriminate against marginalized groups.