Tom Morello has co-written an op-ed warning of the civil danger that facial recognition technology poses on society as well as the efforts made by activists to ban the technology from music festivals.
“Imagine showing up at a music festival or concert and being required to stand in front of a device that scans and analyzes your face,” Morello and Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer wrote for Buzzfeed News. “Once your facial features are mapped and stored in a database, a computer algorithm could then decide that you are drunk and should be denied entry, or that you look ‘suspicious’ and should be flagged for additional screening. If you make it through security, facial recognition technology could then be used to track the minute details of your movements once inside.”
While this software accumulated at festivals could be used for ” strictly commercial purposes like showing you targeted ads,” there also lies the danger that “festival organizers could be forced to hand this trove of sensitive biometric data over to law enforcement or immigration authorities.”
Morello and Greer note that Ticketmaster had invested in companies like Blink Identity, a facial recognition software startup created by defense contractors who have already assisted the U.S. military’s efforts in Afghanistan. With the specter of facial recognition software and digital surveillance looming over music festivals, a petition was launched – successfully – to push organizers of the biggest U.S. fests to ban the technology from their respective events.
“Over the last month, artists and fans waged a grassroots war to stop Orwellian surveillance technology from invading live music events. Today we declare victory,” Morello and Greer wrote. “Our campaign pushed more than 40 of the world’s largest music festivals — like Coachella, Bonnaroo, and SXSW — to go on the record and state clearly that they have no plans to use facial recognition technology at their events.”
At press time, dozens of major festivals – including Coachella, Bonnaroo, Governors Ball, Stagecoach, all Electric Daisy Carnival events, Austin City Limits and SXSW – have pledged they “won’t use” facial recognition technology at their festivals. However, Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful, Burning Man, the iHeartRadio Music Festival and Outside Lands are among those that “might use” the software, according to the Ban Facial Recognition site; artists like Taylor Swift and venues like New York’s Madison Square Garden reportedly already employ the technology.
“Surveillance profiteers who hope to make a lot of money selling facial recognition software to governments and private interests are now on high alert. They’re watching closely for public reactions, running tests to see just how much intrusive monitoring we’re willing to put up with,” Morello and Greer warned. “We have a chance to stop the proliferation of surveillance technology that rivals nuclear weapons in the threat that it poses to the future of humanity. The clock is ticking.”