From smartphones and GoPros, to engineer-designed earplugs, there’s no doubt that technology has drastically changed the way we experience live music. Festival promoters have been quick to recognize this shift, finding creative ways to capitalize off of the convenience it offers their customers. When something as awesome as cashless payment via a wristband means a 20% bump in spending, and fan-facing WiFi means attendees can connect with their friends and promote your brand, it really seems like a win-win.
Some, however, are seeing something more sinister in recent tech-related festival news. Earlier this month there was the Holy Ship! incident, when it was reported that ticketed fans were being blacklisted due to drug-talk discovered via secret online monitoring. Now ninety thousand rock fans have been unwittingly biometrically scanned, their faces run against a police database.
Last week, police in Leicestershire, England accidentally announced that they would be using facial recognition software at the city’s rock-centric Download music festival. In an interview with a police news site, Detective Constable Kevin Walker was quoted as saying, “Strategically placed cameras will scan faces at the Download Festival site in Donington before comparing [them] with a database of custody images from across Europe.” When Noisey, tipped off by local paper The Register, broke the news, people took to Twitter to express their outrage:
A chilling new phrase for your vocabulary: “strategic facial recognition surveillance.” http://t.co/LytqFthGPU
— Grady Booch (@Grady_Booch) June 15, 2015
— Adam Banks (@adambanksdotcom) June 13, 2015
It turns out that as many as ninety thousand attendees may have had their faces biometrically scanned by special cameras and run against that database. The police department, which had been upset that the news had leaked prior to the concert, announced today that all of the information it gathered has been destroyed but did not give any related arrest or crime figures. Chief Superintendent Chris Haward told the BBC that “The software provided an efficient and effective way of picking known offenders out of a crowd – something that officers would previously have been done using paper briefing.”