Ban Facial Recognition at Live Events

The music industry is reeling at news that the owner of iconic New York City venue Madison Square Garden is using facial recognition to identify, harass, and ban people from his venues. This invasive biometric surveillance isn’t safe, especially for Black and brown people who have been falsely arrested or ejected from public places due to the tech’s baked-in discrimination. 

In recent years, a coalition of musicians, fans, and human rights groups successfully got more than 40 of the world’s largest music festivals, including Bonnaroo and Coachella, to say they won’t use facial recognition at events. But now this tech is starting to spread–not only as a surveillance tool, but also as a form of ‘paperless’ ticketing and payment. 

Artists, venues, and fans: you have a choice when it comes to the technology that’s present at live events. Pledge now to help us fight it.

List of Venue and Artist signers

Artist Pledge

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Venue Pledge

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It exacerbates discrimination: Facial recognition enables stores, businesses, and law enforcement to track and target specific individuals and communities with absolutely no oversight or accountability. Given existing structures of discrimination that shape society and institutions like the police, we know that advanced surveillance tools like facial recognition will only fuel existing harms against communities of color and marginalized groups.

It chills free speech: Police have already used facial recognition to identify and target people in Black Lives Matter demonstrations. This violates protesters’ rights and fundamentally threatens democracy by making people too afraid to participate in social movements. The use of facial recognition by business owners will have similar chilling effects – for example, by discouraging employees filing sexual harassment or racial discrimination complaints. Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan has used facial recognition to single out and punish people attending events – who’s to say he isn’t also using the tech against his own employees?

It’s not secure: Once our biometric information is collected and stored in databases, it’s an easy target for identity thieves or state-sponsored hackers. Successful attacks have already happened, and will only grow more commonplace as government and private use of this technology expands.

It doesn’t work: Facial recognition programs identify the wrong person up to 98% of the time. These errors have real-world impacts, including harassment, wrongful imprisonment, and deportation.

A recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Privacy and Technology found that “face recognition doesn’t work well enough to reliably serve the purposes for which law enforcement agencies themselves want to use it.” Because the tech constantly misidentifies people, it actually puts people in danger of bodily and psychological harm (through false arrests and police violence) and does nothing to keep people safe.

Even if facial recognition technology did work perfectly, the threat it poses to human society and basic liberty – by enabling ubiquitous and impossible to avoid monitoring of entire populations –  far outweighs any potential benefits. 

Big picture, we need to stop trying to solve systemic problems like poverty and injustice with invasive, racist, and discriminatory technology.

In most states, venues don’t have to disclose if they’re using facial recognition. MSG Entertainment has been upfront about its use of facial recognition at its New York venues, including Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, and Beacon Theater, only because it’s required to by New York City law. 

MSG Entertainment is one of the first major entertainment groups to be exposed for using this tech to surveil event-goers and enforce a blacklist, but it’s very possible that other venues – both small and large – across the country are using facial recognition in similar ways. For example, a Black teenager was booted from a roller rink in Michigan in 2021 after she was misidentified by facial recognition technology that flagged her as someone on the rink’s “banned” list. 

We also know that biometric technologies like facial recognition are spreading rapidly within the world of ticketing:

  • Ticketmaster has partnered with the facial recognition company Wicket to provide facial recognition ticketing at a range of stadiums and venues, including the Mets’ stadium, Columbus Crew field, the Atlanta Falcons’ stadium, and the Cleveland Browns’ stadium
  • AEG Presents, meanwhile, has tried to introduce biometric palm scanning as a ticketing option at venues in Colorado. Activists and artists succeeded in shutting down a trial of this tech at the famed venue Red Rocks Amphitheater near Denver, Colorado, just weeks after it was introduced. Palm scanners are still reportedly in use at Mission Ballroom in Denver. 

Whether it’s for ticketing or to enforce a blacklist, the collection of biometric data by corporations – through facial recognition or palm scanners – puts people at risk of identity theft and false arrests.

In recent years, Fight for the Future and prominent musicians like Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine led campaigns that got more than 40 of the world’s largest music festivals to say they won’t use facial recognition at their events. Ticketmaster also cut ties with a facial recognition startup after the backlash.

Ultimately we need lawmakers to act and pass laws to protect all of us from facial recognition technology.  Cities including San Francisco, Boston, Minneapolis, and Jackson, MS have passed bans on government and law enforcement use of facial recognition, and Portland, OR has banned use by public places. Federally, lawmakers have introduced the Facial Recognition and Biometric Technology Moratorium Act which would protect people across the U.S. from government and law enforcement use, but there hasn’t been a federal bill to address how private companies like MSG use the technology. We need to keep pressure on lawmakers to act on this issue.

Fan Pledge

Music fans have the power to hold venues and artists accountable. Sign the petition calling on your favorite artists and venues to take the pledge and commit to not use biometric tech at their events. And pledge to boycott venues that do use this technology until they stop.

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