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  • Writer's pictureJamal Saafir

Face-Scanning Technology May Not Be The Future After All

According to Rolling Stone via Yahoo, Rage Against the Machine co-founders Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha, Boots Riley and Speedy Ortiz, along with over 100 other artists, have announced the boycott of all concert venues using face-scanning tech, due to apprehension that the technology impedes on privacy and promotes discrimination.

The boycott, organized by the digital rights advocacy group Fight for the Future, calls for banning face-scanning technology at all live events. Several smaller independent concert venues across the country, including the House of Yes in Brooklyn, the Lyric Hyperion in Los Angeles, and Black Cat in D.C., also pledged to not use facial recognition tech for their shows.

Artists also taking the same stance and boycotting face-scanning tech include Wheatus, Downtown Boys, Anti-Flag, and over 80 additional artists. A list of venues and artist signers can be found here:

“Surveillance tech companies are pitching biometric data tools as ‘innovative’ and helpful for increasing efficiency and security. Not only is this false, it’s morally corrupt,” Leila Nashashibi, campaigner at Fight for the Future, said in a statement. “For starters, this technology is so inaccurate that it actually creates more harm and problems than it solves, through misidentification and other technical faultiness. Even scarier, though, is a world in which all facial recognition technology works 100% perfectly – in other words, a world in which privacy is nonexistent, where we’re identified, watched, and surveilled everywhere we go.”

Facial recognition technology at venues has grown increasingly controversial over the past several months, particularly as Madison Square Garden Entertainment and James Dolan have garnered scrutiny for using the tech to kick out lawyers affiliated with ongoing lawsuits against the company. Several attorneys had been removed last year from events at MSG’s venues including its eponymous arena and Radio City Music Hall. Last October, attorney Barbara Hart was removed from Brandi Carlile’s Madison Square Garden Concert because her law firm was litigating against MSG in a class action lawsuit.

“It’s a really lousy extension of bullying behavior facilitated by the use of this technology,” Hart told Rolling Stone of her removal.

New York Attorney General Letitia James

Earlier this year, New York Attorney General Letitia James announced she was seeking out information regarding MSG’s use of the facial recognition tech, urging the company to roll back its policy. Several New York lawmakers also staged a protest about the policy in January. As the New York Post previously reported, New York’s State Liquor Authority had initiated proceedings to remove MSG’s liquor license. MSG sued over that decision and has repeatedly stood by its policy of barring the lawyers from its premises.

“MSG instituted a straightforward policy that precludes attorneys from firms pursuing active litigation against the Company from attending events at our venues until that litigation has been resolved,” the company previously said. “While we understand this policy is disappointing to some, we cannot ignore the fact that litigation creates an inherently adversarial environment. The facial recognition technology system does not retain images of individuals, with the exception of those who were previously advised they are prohibited from entering our venues, or whose previous misconduct in our venues has identified them as a security risk.”

New York venue Citi Field as well as Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium, Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium, and the Pechanga Arena in San Diego are among several venues across the country that have used face-scanning.

Morello and de la Rocha performed at Madison Square Garden with Rage Against the Machine last year. This isn’t the first time Morello and some other signatories including Speedy Ortiz called for a ban on biometric tech at a famous venue. In 2022, Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver abandoned Amazon’s palm-reading technology following a protest from the artists and Fight for the Future.

Facial recognition tech is not only used by venues but in safety-related matters where its use is beneficial. Taylor Swift, for instance, used facial recognition during her Reputation tour as a means of identifying her known stalkers. Though practical in such cases where facial recognition has proved helpful, those calling for the ban and boycotting the venues argue that its risks outweigh its benefits, and that biometric technology infringes upon privacy rights and promotes discrimination against marginalized groups including people of color and members of the LGBTQ community.

New York City Council member Shahana Hanif

New York City Council member Shahana Hanif, who previously introduced a bill that if passed would outlaw businesses in the city from using biometric tech to identify customers, voiced her support for the boycott.

“Facial recognition technology doesn’t keep us safe; it perpetuates racist biases and commodifies our biometric data,” Hanif said. “I am thrilled to see so many venues and artists show their support for banning the use of biometric surveillance. Our opponents claim that this technology is essential to safety in the public arena, but this support proves that it’s the very businesses being marketed this technology

that intimately understands its inherent dangers.”

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