Organizers are calling for a ban on facial recognition in public places, and asking artists and venues to take a pledge to stop the spread of this tech at live events.
Tonight, Fight for the Future organized an event where music fans, privacy advocates, and racial justice advocates gathered outside Madison Square Garden to express outrage over the ongoing use of facial recognition at MSG and other venues.
Participants at today’s event called on artists, including John Mayer (who performed tonight at the Garden), to join the growing opposition against this technology by pledging to boycott venues using facial recognition, and to join efforts to ban biometric surveillance in all places of public accommodation.
A range of public officials and agencies, including New York state senators, New York City Council members, the New York Attorney General, New York City’s Public Advocate, the New York Bar Association, and the New York Liquor Authority, have spoken out against the use of facial recognition tech on event-goers. The laundry list of concerns includes privacy infringements, automated discrimination, false matches, and the safety of marginalized groups already targeted by surveillance.
“Billionaires in Silicon Valley and the NYPD tell us that facial recognition is here to keep us safe, but we know this is a lie. This new extension of the surveillance state is just another tactic of control by the powers at be,” said New York City Council Member Shahana Hanif. “Our City cannot settle for a surveillance state that grows unrestricted and is used to settle the personal scores of billionaire venue owners. Just as we fought and ended stop-and-frisk, we will end the unrestricted use of facial recognition in New York City.”
“Every single business or venue that begins using facial recognition surveillance is bringing us one step closer to a world in which people are identified and tracked everywhere they go, effectively ending personal privacy as we know it. Right now racial justice and privacy advocates across the country are watching lawmakers’ response to the use of facial recognition at MSG, knowing that this case—and the regulation it may produce—could set a precedent that impacts the future of this invasive and dangerous technology far beyond New York,” said Leila Nashashibi, Campaigner at Fight for the Future. “The attention on Madison Square Garden also shines an important light on the spread of this technology within the live entertainment industry. From ticketing, to paying for concessions, to age verification for alcohol purchases, to enforcing blacklists, this tech is creeping into event venues across the country, seriously threatening people’s privacy and safety. This is a critical moment to come together to reject attempts to turn the live events we love into spaces of surveillance. Artists like John Mayer, who performed tonight at MSG, can have an enormous impact by pledging to boycott venues that use facial recognition surveillance. Venues can and should also pledge to never use this tech. And music fans everywhere can play a role by holding their favorite artists and venues accountable.”
Artists across the country have already played an active role in the fight against biometric surveillance. In 2019, a coalition of musicians, fans, and human rights groups successfully pushed more than 40 of the world’s largest music festivals, including Bonnaroo and Coachella, to say they won’t use facial recognition at events. And last year, over 300 artists, including Tom Morello and Kathleen Hanna, mobilized to block palm scanners—another biometric data collection tool—from being introduced at Red Rocks Amphitheater.