Tom Morello Warns of Dangers of Facial Recognition Technology at Fest
Just last month, Tom Morello was among a group of musicians lending their support to a Fight the Future coalition campaign to spread awareness concerning the dangers of implementation of facial recognition technology at festivals. Now, the guitarist has claimed in a new op-ed piece with Buzzfeed News that the first blow has been struck, but there's more work left to be done.
Morello and Fight the Future director Evan Greer penned the piece, in which they lay out the scenario of how facial recognition technology could be used. "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," starts the piece. "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."
They continue, "Face scanning software could be used to police behavior — constantly scanning the crowd for drug use or rule-breaking — or for strictly commercial purposes, like showing you targeted ads, monitoring which artists you came to see, or tracking how many times you go to the bar or the bathroom. Festival organizers could be forced to hand this trove of sensitive biometric data over to law enforcement or immigration authorities, and armed officers could pull people out of the crowd because they have an outstanding warrant or a deportation order. If you’re a person of color, or your gender presentation doesn’t conform to the computer’s stereotypes, you’d be more likely to be falsely flagged by the system."
According to the pair, the campaign has made a dent in the plans to implement the technology at concerts. "There's a lesson in the story of how we dashed their dystopian profit dreams. A future where we are constantly subjected to corporate and government surveillance is not inevitable, but it’s coming fast unless we act now," the pair state. "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. 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. Facing backlash, Ticketmaster all but threw Blink Identity under the bus, distancing itself from the surveillance startup it boasted about partnering with just a year ago. This victory is the first major blow to the spread of commercial facial recognition in the United States, and its significance cannot be overstated."
While there is reason for celebration, Morello and Greer caution that there's more work to be done. "In a few short weeks, using basic grassroots activism tactics like online petitions, social media pressure, and an economic boycott targeting festival sponsors, artists and fans killed the idea of facial recognition at US music festivals. Now we need to do the same for sporting events, transportation, public housing, schools, law enforcement agencies, and all public places. And there’s no time to lose," they state.
They also stress the importance of action before the technology is implemented, adding, "It’s an experiment. And we’re the test subjects. If we accept ubiquitous biometric monitoring and normalize the idea of getting our faces scanned to get on a plane or pick up our kids from school, the experiment works and our fate is sealed."
Read the full piece here.
See Tom Morello in the 66 Best Hard Rock + Metal Guitarists