Last year, Techdirt wrote about Boston Police performing a test run of its facial recognition software on those attending a local music festival. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the UK, land of a million CCTV cameras, the police have taken things even further. As this story in Noisey explains, drawing on a report on the Police Oracle site (registration required):
This weekend’s Download Festival will be subjected to strategic facial recognition technology by Leicestershire Police, making those 100,000 plus attendees the first music fans to ever be monitored to this extent at a UK music festival
The announcement article on Police Oracle 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.”
The ostensible reason for this massive surveillance is to catch people who steal mobile phones, but that really doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The database that the 100,000 faces were matched against was “custody images from across Europe”, but it seems improbable that criminals would travel all the way across Europe to this particular music festival in the hope that they might be able to relieve a few spaced-out musicgoers of their phones. Nor was general criminal behavior an issue: apparently, last year there were just 91 arrests with 120,000 people attending. It’s more likely that the facial scans were born of a desire to see if the hardware and software were capable of capturing such large numbers and comparing them with the pan-European database. Worryingly, the Download Festival may be just the start:
According to the Police Oracle article previously cited, other festival organisers have expressed widespread interest in technology, pending a successful trial. DC Kevin Walker told the Oracle, “It is one of the first times it has been trialled outside, normally it is done in a controlled environment. There has also been a lot of interest from other festivals and they are saying: ‘If it works, can we borrow it?’ “
It’s easy to see this kind of technology being rolled out ever-more widely. First at other music festivals — purely for safety reasons, you understand — and then, once people have started to get used to that, elsewhere too. Eventually, of course, it will become routine to scan everyone, everywhere, all the time, offering a perfect analog complement to the non-stop, pervasive surveillance that we now know takes place in the digital world.