Tom Morello and Evan Greer have penned an incendiary op-ed for Buzzfeed to encourage the public to mobilize against the ongoing rollout of facial recognition. The article specifically references the recent (and successful) efforts to prevent the deployment of facial recognition tech at large music festivals, suggesting that it could serve as a template for those looking to resist the normalization of face-based surveillance in other venues.
To that end, Morello and Greer note that while facial recognition is often billed as a ticketing convenience, it is often used for much more invasive data collection and surveillance once the cameras are in place. That’s why activists put together a grassroots campaign against Ticketmaster after the company invested in Blink Identity, a startup whose founders previously built facial recognition tech for the US military.
The campaign eventually forced the organizers of major events like SXSW and Coachella to state unequivocally that they have no plans to introduce facial recognition at their festivals. Morello and Greer are now hoping that such movements – which leverage tactics like petitions, boycotts, and social media pressure – will yield similar results in other areas of public life, including airports, shopping malls, and sports arenas. Blink Identity, for instance, has already moved on to a pilot program with Manchester City FC.
According to Morello and Greer, the tech industry’s calls for greater regulation are an attempt to deflect legitimate criticism, and to make facial recognition technology seem more harmless than it really is. They argue that facial recognition is not an inevitable component of the future, and that tech companies are simply trying to implement and normalize surveillance before the public is aware of the threat it poses to civil liberties.
Despite the Orwellian rhetoric, those fears are not entirely baseless. The technology has known instances of racial biases, while Chinese police have used facial recognition surveillance to make arrests at concerts based on outstanding warrants.
The duo does point out that opposition to facial recognition has been growing in recent months. Several cities have banned the technology, and there are indications that such bans could be adopted at the state and federal level.
Morello is best known as the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine, while Greer is the Deputy Director of Fight for the Future.
October 24, 2019 – by Eric Weiss