More than 200 artists and privacy advocacy groups have penned an open letter calling on Red Rocks, AXS, and AEG to immediately stop its use of the Amazon One biometric scanning system. Among those signing are Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, and Pittsburgh punk group Anti-Flag. Groups signed on include Common Dreams, the Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, Fight for the Future, and the Athena Coalition.
“As human rights groups, artists, and music fans, we are calling on Red Rocks Amphitheater, AXS, and AEG Worldwide to immediately cancel all contracts with Amazon for the invasive Amazon One palm scanning technology, and ban all biometric surveillance at events and venues once and for all,” the letter says, in part. “For many of us, concerts and live events are some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of our lives. The spread of biometric surveillance tools like palm scans and facial recognition now threatens to destroy that, transforming these spaces into hotspots for ICE raids, false arrests, police harassment, and stolen identities.”
The biometric scanning system was announced in September, with AXS planning to pilot the program at Red Rocks, located just outside of Denver where parent company AEG is located. Powered by the same Amazon tech that is used for contact-free purchases at some Amazon storefront locations, “One” involves having a user’s palm scanned into the system, where it is stored in a database linked to the user identity. Tickets for shows at venues using that technology would be linked to that user account, allowing for their hand to serve as the “barcode” in a sense rather than any ticket or mobile QR code.
The use of biometric data as part of the ticketing process has been enormously controversial, ever since companies like Live Nation first toyed with the idea of facial recognition as part of the venue entry process. Both Live Nation and AXS issued promises that they would not use such systems at festivals in reaction to a coordinated campaign pushing back against facial recognition tech in 2019.
The fact that AXS is deploying such tech at Red Rocks after promising not to use facial recognition was cited among the complaints in the letter, given that the same concerns of consumer privacy and rights exist across any biometric system, whether the thing being scanned is your face or your palm.
From the group’s website (amazondoesntrock.com):
Amazon, Red Rocks, AXS (Red Rocks’ ticketing company), and AEG (AXS’ parent company) say this technology is all about convenience. But here’s the deal. For both corporations and governments, biometric surveillance – i.e. scanning and storing data on our body parts – is hugely appealing because of the relative immutability of the data collected. Unlike addresses or credit card numbers, most biometrics can’t be changed. Biometrics make identifying us and tracking our activities and interactions easier and more effective. And guess what? Better tracking = more control (for governments) and more profit (for corporations).
In a statement issued to Rolling Stone, Amazon said the claims made in the letter are “inaccurate.”
“Amazon One is not a facial recognition technology – it is an optional technology designed to make daily activities faster and easier for customers, and users who choose to participate must make an intentional gesture with their palm to use the service,” a spokesperson told the magazine. “We understand that how we protect customer data is important to customers – this is very important to us too, and that’s why safeguarding customer privacy is a foundational design principle for Amazon One.”
The full letter is included below:
As human rights groups, artists, and music fans, we are calling on Red Rocks Amphitheater, AXS, and AEG Worldwide to immediately cancel all contracts with Amazon for the invasive Amazon One palm scanning technology, and ban all biometric surveillance at events and venues once and for all.
For many of us, concerts and live events are some of the most memorable and enjoyable experiences of our lives. The spread of biometric surveillance tools like palm scans and facial recognition now threatens to destroy that, transforming these spaces into hotspots for ICE raids, false arrests, police harassment, and stolen identities.
In 2019, over 40 of the largest US music festivals, including Burning Man, Coachella, South by Southwest and Lollapalooza, responded to activists’ demands to reject invasive facial recognition technology at their festivals.
Introducing palm scanning devices is a slap in the face to fans and artists that have fought so hard to promote safety for everyone at live events. It’s simply a matter of time before we hear of cases of palm scans misidentifying people in the ways that facial recognition has – often with violent and life altering consequences – but most concerning of all is the fact that this new technology will make the data of thousands of people vulnerable to ongoing government tracking and abuse AND malicious hackers.
AEG is one of the many companies that has taken a strong stand against the use of facial recognition at its festivals. Red Rocks, AXS and AEG must now go one step further and refuse palm scanning devices and all other forms of invasive biometric surveillance. The marginal-at-best convenience of scanning a hand instead of a ticket is no excuse for implementing technology that will exacerbate violent systems and cause harm. Our privacy, safety and lives are at stake.