When you go to a Taylor Swift concert, you might expect your face to show up in the background of a crowd selfie (or a thousand). You might not expect to have pictures of your face analysed in real time by Swift’s security team.
Rolling Stone reported that concertgoers at Swift’s May 18 Rose Bowl concert had their identities scanned by sophisticated facial recognition technology embedded in a large screen playing concert clips. Faces were compared to a database of Swift’s known stalkers, as a security measure for the singer.
Now, the American Civil Liberties Union has responded. In a blog post published the the nonprofit’s website, an an analyst from the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project outlined some concerns Swift’s use of the technology raises. While they appreciate the serious threat of stalkers, the ACLU warns against the tech: “We shouldn’t rush into embracing without checks and balances to make sure it’s not abused.”
The most pressing problem presented by the ACLU has to do with private watchlists. This kind of facial recognition technology is only useful when compared to a watchlist of suspected troublemakers, like the one of Swift’s known stalkers. But you wouldn’t know if you’re on a watchlist, and certainly don’t have the ability to appeal your inclusion. The ACLU cautions, “As these watchlists become institutionalised, and in all likelihood shared, the consequences of unfair treatment or racial bias in the compilation of these lists become magnified.”
They even compare these watchlists to blacklisted citizens during the “red scare” of the 1940s and 50s, as an example of the real potential technology has to be misused: “There’s a long history of private and quasi-private watchlists being abused, going back to the labor battles of the early 20th century, when workers and organisers were blacklisted as ‘troublemakers’ and could have trouble getting a job.”
For Swift, threats from stalkers have reached new levels of danger in 2018. A few of the more terrifying incidents included a man who was arrested for stalking Swift’s Beverly Hills home while carrying masks, gloves, rope, and a knife, and a man who was arrested after successfully breaking into Swift’s New York brownstone, showering, and taking a nap in the singer’s bed.
Refinery29 has reached out to representatives for Taylor Swift for comment.