Facial Recognition Technology Used to Screen for Stalkers at Rose Bowl Taylor Swift Concert Raises Questions, Concerns

Published : Friday, December 14, 2018 | 6:05 AM

Pop singer Taylor Swift’s May concert at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena is now sending reverberations across the nation after it was reported Thursday that the performer’s security detail used cutting-edge facial recognition technology to search for stalkers in the crowd.

The revelation, first reported by Rolling Stone, provoked debate within the entertainment industry, the tech field and among privacy advocates.

A chief security officer for Oak View Group, which advises concert venues such as the Forum in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York, told the magazine that he attended the concert and saw a demonstration of the facial recognition system from the company that made it.

Cameras were hidden in a display kiosk at the Rose Bowl showing videos of Swift’s rehearsals, Mike Downing told Rolling Stone. Images of the faces of the concert goers in the kiosk were sent to a facility in Nashville, where they were cross-referenced with a database containing images of Swift’s stalkers.

Concerts and other entertainment events at the Rose Bowl are private gatherings, and while the Pasadena Police Department was briefed on the facial-recognition security measure at the time, the Department was not involved in it, Pasadena police Lt. Jason Clawson said.

“Any facial recognition software that’s actually deployed during any concerts or any venues near Pasadena is proprietary to whatever security detail that’s protecting the performers,” the lieutenant said. “PPD has no access to any of that data, has no access to any of the technology. Nothing’s cross referenced to our databases, nor do we access any of their data. And from what I know, we made no arrests based upon the technology.”

Clawson said he was not aware of facial technology being used previously at any other events at the Rose Bowl.

Rose Bowl officials declined to comment Thursday.

There is nothing in California law that prohibits the use of such technology, so the same rules apply as with any type of video recording. In general, people in California can be recorded when in a public place without an expectation of privacy, or have been notified of the recording.

Privacy advocates have long been urging caution against facial recognition technology.

ACLU of Northern California Technology & Civil Liberties Attorney Jacob Snow warned of the potential dark side of the emerging technology in an article published Wednesday on the organization’s website in which he criticized Amazon for a proposal to add facial recognition technology to the popular Ring video doorbell.

“The ACLU and other civil rights groups have repeatedly warned that face surveillance poses an unprecedented threat to civil liberties and civil rights that must be stopped before it becomes widespread,” Snow wrote. “The history of discriminatory government surveillance makes clear that face surveillance will disproportionately harm people already targeted by the government and subjected to racial profiling and abuse — immigrants, people of color, and the formerly incarcerated.”

Encino-based FaceFirst, is a company specializing in facial recognition systems, however not the provider of the particular Facial Recognition service Taylor Swift used at the Rose Bowl.

“In its report regarding the commercial use of facial recognition technology, the Government Accountability Office noted that facial recognition technology is actually less intrusive than traditional video surveillance, in that facial recognition technology only captures biometric information,” the company states on its website.

The company adds that it uses precautions such as encryption and data purging to protect the public’s privacy, and even incorporates software meant to prevent discrimination.

“The FaceFirst system is designed to prevent utilizing the platform for any type of profiling by race, age, gender or national origin,” according to the company.

Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek said he didn’t have a strong opinion on the issue and hadn’t given it a great deal of consideration. But he said he thought people should be informed when it’s being used.

“I recognize the need for it and the fact that it’s becoming widely in use in a whole variety of applications, and I know the ACLU and others are concerned about it, as yet another erosion of personal privacy,” he said. “But I think we’re confronted with new realities in terms of security in today’s world.”

“I think people need to be alerted to the fact that it’s in use,” Tornek said. “There should be notifications. I know we have notifications at the Rose Bowl, and I think people need to be put on notice and then just need to make their own decisions about whether that will limit their use of those facilities.”