Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello and Zack de la Rocha led a list of 100 artists calling for facial recognition technology to be removed from entertainment venues.

A pledge signed by a range of musicians and music venue operators, organized by the activist group Fight for the Future, stated that the signatories would boycott any location making use of the camera systems. It follows reports in 2022 that Madison Square Garden had been identifying lawyers involved in litigation with its owners and removing them from shows.

“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 [its] venues,” the organization said. “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.”

A note on the organization’s sign-up page argued that “facial recognition is unreliable, unjust, and a threat to basic rights and safety. There are more and more examples of government and law enforcement using this technology, which is why we need to act now to stop it. Send a message to your lawmakers to demand they support legislation to ban facial recognition.”

“Surveillance tech companies are pitching biometric data tools as ‘innovative’ and helpful for increasing efficiency and security,” Fight for the Future campaigner Leila Nashashibi said in a statement. “This technology is so inaccurate that it actually creates more harm and problems than it solves. … Even scarier, though, is a world in which all facial recognition technology works 100% perfectly – in other words, a world in which privacy is nonexistent, where we’re identified, watched and surveilled everywhere we go.”

In 2019 Morello co-wrote a Buzzfeed opinion piece stating the case against “Orwellian” biometric tech, saying, “Surveillance profiteers who hope to make a lot of money selling facial recognition software to governments and private interests are now on high alert. They’re watching closely for public reactions, running tests to see just how much intrusive monitoring we’re willing to put up with. We have a chance to stop the proliferation of surveillance technology that rivals nuclear weapons in the threat that it poses to the future of humanity. The clock is ticking.”

New York City Council member Shahana Hanif, the sponsor of a bill that aims to ban the use of biometric data to identify and market to customers, said (via Yahoo), “Facial recognition technology doesn’t keep us safe; it perpetuates racist biases and commodifies our biometric data. I am thrilled to see so many venues and artists show their support for banning the use of biometric surveillance. "Our opponents claim that this technology is essential to safety in the public arena, but this support proves that it’s the very businesses being marketed this technology that intimately understands its inherent dangers."

The report noted that while some venues had abandoned the tech, MSG argued its use of it to prevent certain lawyers from attending shows helped address potential “adversarial” problems. Another argument came in the form of Taylor Swift’s use of recognition systems to keep convicted stalkers out of her shows.

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