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Is facial recognition coming to a show near you?

Going to a concert should be about the fun, not a scenario in which people are worried about their photo being uploaded into a government database.

Terrible incidents like the mass shootings in Las Vegas and the bomb at Ariana Grande’s Manchester show are terrifying by design and make concert-goers wonder if the venue is doing enough to protect their safety. 

But where is the line between safety and privacy invasion?

Fight for the Future, a nonprofit organization focused on protecting privacy in the digital age, has launched a new initiative calling on musicians, fans and venues to speak up against the practice. 

It’s targeting Ticketmaster in particular as the behemoth owns venues, sells tickets, books tours and owns several big festivals.

What’s the concern?

That people who are out for a night of fun at a show could find themselves arrested for unrelated charges, maybe for offenses they didn’t know they committed. Fans, especially people of color, could be misidentified and arrested for things they didn’t do. Pass by a camera and, without your knowledge or consent, your photo is taken and uploaded into a government database. Even worse, if you’re an undocumented immigrant, you could be arrested and deported.

“We are on the verge of an unprecedented increase in state and private spying that will be built in plain sight,” the group says. “People are alarmed, and this map and the toolkit arms people everywhere with the resources to both fight back and learn from how others are doing it. It’s going to take all of us to rid this country of this most dangerous technology.”

An interactive map shows exactly where municipalities have enacted policies for or against facial recognition software and how it can be used (if permitted), though the data only appears to track locations in the United States at the moment.

Some cities, including San Francisco and Oakland, have banned facial recognition technology as a privacy protection measure. There’s legislation under consideration in Massachusetts and Michigan to stop its incorporation at the state level. Congress is showing a bipartisan agreement to address the issue but it’s unclear what direction that will take – or if it will come up at all in any meaningful way in the near future.

Facial recognition technology is still largely in its infancy and it’s filled with bugs — a test recently conducted by Amazon on its software misidentified 20% of California lawmakers as criminals.

And it’s easy to ask why people should be against the use of facial recognition technology if it’s in the name of safety. If a local police department could identify a known criminal or a terror suspect, why wouldn’t we want to know that? Why not embrace something that could keep us all safer?

A valid and understandable question.

The American Civil Liberties Union has four reasons why this technology should be kept only for concentrated, specific, law-enforcement purposes:

  • Video surveillance programs have not been proven as effective deterrents — look at the United Kingdom, which spends 20% of its criminal justice budget on surveillance but was unable to stop the Manchester incident.
  • CCTVs are subject to institutional and criminal abuse in addition to discriminatory targeting and essentially turning public safety cameras into digital peeping Toms.
  • There are limited, if any, checks and balances for how the data is collected, utilized, analyzed or kept, and it’s very easy to take a technology implemented for one purpose and suddenly find reason to apply it to other situations.
  • There’s also a concern that widespread surveillance will have a “chilling effect” on public life, with people opting to stay home instead of doing something that might be perceived as criminal to an eye in the sky.

What do you think? Is the promise of improved safety a reasonable trade? Or do people have an expectation of privacy in public spaces?


Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

Amber Healy has 521 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Healy

2 thoughts on “Is facial recognition coming to a show near you?

  • Do we want to live under a political regime like China’s? China has embraced facial recognition technology. Remeber the time you and your partner had spur of the moment hot sex in the bushes near a concert? Well those days would be over. Big Brother would be watching and ready to incarcerate you on morals charges.

  • Facial recognition technology has not been proven to do anything but be extremely damaging and harmful when used. It has no place here.
    Hurting a huge number of innocents to catch one criminal is not a valid tradeoff.


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