The 100K+ fans who attended this past week’s Donington Park-based Download Music Festival, where subject to a first-of-its-kind facial recognition technology by the Leicestershire Police according to UK police website Police Oracle.
Though such technology has been utilised before, most recently in Boston, USA at the Boston Calling festival, it should be noted this was in the immediate aftermath of 2013’s bombing of that cities marathon, rendering police and authority figures extra cautious surrounding instances of mass gatherings. There may be dangers, but the bottom line remains that such technology requiring the expense of large sums of money to spy on largely innocent music fans is an act steeped more in social control than issues of patron safety.
The announcement regarding Download (a heavy metal event featuring the likes of Slipknot, Kiss, and Marilyn Manson) reads, “the strategically placed cameras will scan faces at the Download Festival site in Donington before comparing it with a database of custody images from across Europe,” which seems rather excessive given that (per Police Oracle’s article) the departments primary goal is to catch perpetrators who, “steal mobile phones”. Instead, festival goers will be cross-examined with a continent wide database of criminal mugshots.
Furthermore, the Leicestershire Police Department seems rather upset at the fact Police Oracle published the repost prior to the festival taking place, (assumingly) wanting festival goers to be left in the dark regarding such privacy invasion. According to The Register, “Police Oracle’s publication of the interview has caused significant upset for management at Leicestershire Police, who did not want any advance publicity of their ‘new’ surveillance project. The public would have been informed that it had been placed under surveillance after the event had ended, presumably as part of a ‘you didn’t know, therefore it wasn’t intrusive,’ justification for the scheme.”
Though Ch Supt Chris Haward defends the technologies use, “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 briefings,” it must be understood that a primary incentive for most patrons who attend festivals is to completely unshackle from societies pressures, the knowledge of such surveillance can only be antithetical toward this desire of uninhibited freedom.
Facial Recognition Technology at Boston Calling festival