In a Buzzfeed News op-ed Tom Morello and Evan Greer chronicle how musicians, fans, and activists destroyed major a market for biometric surveillance; LiveNation backpedals from previous investments in invasive and racially biased face scanning technology as Coachella, SXSW, Bonnaroo, and more make statements.
The campaign to ban facial recognition technology from US music festivals was declared a victory in an op-ed by Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello and Evan Greer of digital rights group Fight for the Future. The op-ed explores the campaign that led dozens of major festivals to state they have no intention to use the uniquely dangerous technology.
After musicians including Morello condemned facial recognition technology on social media, LiveNation was among the first to state that they do not intend to use facial recognition—a startling reversal from what investors in the company that owns Bonnaroo and Austin City Limits were told a year prior. Their Q1 2018 investor report had lauded a new partnership with former defense contractor Blink Identity to bring facial recognition to event entry.
Many other festivals followed suit, with AEG Presents events such as Coachella declining to comment until activists launched a pressure campaign calling on festival sponsors to pull out. Hours into the campaign, AEG Presents’ COO stated via email that "AEG festivals do not use facial recognition technology and do not have plans to implement."
"We just ruined some surveillance capitalists’ dreams of making millions selling invasive biometric surveillance technology to the live music industry, and we’re not sorry about it," said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her), "We estimate this campaign has done tens of millions of dollars of economic damage to companies selling this creepy, racist software. It’s is the first major blow to the spread of commercial facial recognition in the US, and it should remind all of us that a dystopian future is not inevitable if we’re willing to fight for our rights."
Sparked by outcry from major musicians such as Tom Morello and Amanda Palmer, Nahko and Medicine for the People, Thievery Corporation, Gramatik, Anti-Flag, Atmosphere, Speedy Ortiz, Downtown Boys, music fans sent thousands of emails to their favorite festivals via Fight for the Future’s website. The website also features a scorecard making clear where festivals stand on the issue.
See the website here: banfacialrecognition.com/festivals/
Facial recognition is not widespread at music events in the US. But reports show Madison Square Garden is already using facial recognition surveillance, and even smaller bars and venues are experimenting with it.
"These vendors, and the venture capitalists who backed them, saw the live music industry as a huge potential market for biometric surveillance tech, marketed as a convenient ticketing option to concert goers. Now it seems they’ll be sorely disappointed. The story of how we dashed their dystopian profit dreams is a lesson: a future where we are constantly subjected to corporate and government surveillance is not inevitable, but it’s coming fast unless we act now," write Morello and Greer in Buzzfeed.
"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 concluded, "This technology is spreading like an epidemic. We’ve succeeded in stopping it from invading live music events in the US, now we need to fight for an outright ban at the Federal level."
The campaign is part of Fight for the Future’s broader BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, which has been endorsed my 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, Berkeley, CA, and Oakland, CA, and there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to address the issue at the federal level.