Facial recognition at music festivals: new scorecard shows which events have committed to not use invasive surveillance

Posted September 23, 2019, 2:33 AM

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, September 23, 2019
Contact: Evan Greer, press@fightforthefuture.org, 978-852-6457

Tom Morello, Amanda Palmer, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Thievery Corporation, Atmosphere, Gramatik, Speedy Ortiz, The Glitch Mob, Downtown Boys among artists calling on festivals and venues to ban facial recognition

Digital rights group Fight for the Future has released a new scorecard showing where music festivals in the US stand when it comes to using facial recognition on fans. 

Major festivals like Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits, Electric Forest, and Shambhala have issued statements making it clear they have no plans to use invasive and racially biased facial recognition technology. Paradiso Fest, Sonic Bloom, Summer Meltdown, Lucidity Festival and Punk Rock Bowling posted their commitment to not use the tech publicly. 

But several major festivals including SXSW, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Pitchfork Music Festival––along with all properties of the major events conglomerate AEG Presents––did not respond to repeated requests from organizers, and have made no commitments, causing concern among fans that they may be currently experimenting with facial recognition or planning to use it in the future. 

Ticketmaster / LiveNation issued a statement confirming that it is not currently using facial recognition at its events, a positive step given that they previously invested in the technology. But troublingly, they explicitly left the door open to future use on an “opt in” basis, something security and human rights experts warn does not alleviate the concerns with mass collection of sensitive biometric information. Goldenvoice, who runs Coachella, gave a non-answer “we are not looking to add to this conversation at this time,” when asked to clarify their current policies and future plans regarding the use of facial recognition.

See the scorecard here: https://www.banfacialrecognition.com/festivals/new/#scorecard 

“The companies that run major festivals should not be experimenting on music fans by scanning our faces and collecting our biometric information,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), “People deserve to know whether their favorite event has plans to use facial recognition technology. Experts say facial recognition is so dangerous it should be compared to nuclear or biological weapons. Festival organizers have a moral imperative to clearly commit to not using this invasive and racially biased technology on music fans. They should never put our safety and basic rights at risk just to collect our data and turn it into profit.”

Headlining artists like Tom Morello, Amanda Palmer, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Thievery Corporation, Gramatik, Anti-Flag, Atmosphere, Speedy Ortiz, Melissa Ferrick, The Glitch Mob, Downtown Boys, Laura Stevenson, Brian Fallon of Gaslight Anthem, Jeff Rosenstock, and B Dolan support the campaign, along with thousands of fans who have posted on social media and signed a petition. 

Facial recognition is not widespread at music events in the US. But Ticketmaster and other event companies have previously lauded their partnerships in the controversial technology, and even smaller bars and venues are experimenting with it. Reports show Madison Square Garden is already using facial recognition surveillance.

“I don’t want Big Brother at my shows targeting fans for harassment, deportation, or arrest. That’s why I’m joining this campaign calling on @Ticketmaster and others not to use #facialrecognition at festivals and concerts,” Tom Morello, legendary guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and Prophets of Rage, tweeted in support of the campaign. 

“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,“ Fight for the Future’s Evan Greer added, "We’re calling on all artists, venues, festivals, and promoters 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.”

The campaign is part of Fight for the Future’s broader BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, which has been endorsed by more than 30 major grassroots civil rights organizations including Greenpeace, Color of Change, Daily Kos, United We Dream, Council on American Islamic Relations, MoveOn, and Free Press. The groups are calling for local, state, and federal lawmakers to ban law enforcement use of facial recognition. Several cities have already banned the controversial technology outright, including  San Francisco, Somerville, MA, and Oakland, CA, and there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to address the issue at the federal level.

###