UK Police Scanned The Faces Of 100,000 People At A Music Festival

UK Police Scanned the Faces of 100,000 People at a Music Festival

Police used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival in the UK without their knowledge. Because this is the world we live in.

Leicestershire Police used this weekend's event to do a test run of their new facial recognition tech, trying to catch "organised criminals" who specifically target music festivals to "steal mobile phones," according to a report in Police Oracle. The collected footage is compared against a database of custody images to identify the criminals — in this case, an alleged music fest phone robbing crime ring.

Facial recognition is increasingly being used by law enforcement. In the US, it's used by the FBI and a spattering of local police departments, though generally in a more limited setting — specific to an ongoing investigation or in a controlled environment like a store. Scanning a throng of faces at an outdoor public event is taking it to a new level, which is why the local Police Oracle article got the attention of Noisey, TechDirt, and the BBC. This paints a pretty dystopian picture of what increased use of facial recognition tech in public places could lead to. And it's some creepy shit.

The Download fest this weekend was one of the first uses of the tech in such a broad setting outdoors. Noisey has more background:

Globally, it's not the first time festival attendees have been heavily surveilled at a music festival, usually without their prior knowledge. After the Boston Marathon bombing of April 2013, the subsequent Boston Calling festival was subject to heavy but discreet forms of facial recognition surveillance (as covered here by Noisey US). But you can partly excuse Boston police forces for such invasive policing so soon after a bombing. It's something you can't really say for Leicestershire police this weekend at Donington Park.

It's a classic slippery slope situation. Yes, you're only going to get flagged if you're on the custody database, but all that footage is still recorded and collected. What if it's not destroyed? (Leicestershire Police say they have destroyed the Download festival footage, but we have to take them at their word.) A massive amount of data on innocent members of the public collected without our knowledge for the purpose of targeting select criminals isn't exactly a new paradigm here. How's that working out so far? Do we want our faces in the mix too?

Nope, but unfortunately privacy advocates are losing this fight before it even starts. Meanwhile, facial recognition software is getting more sophisticated and increasingly popular in commercial spaces too — your face might already be stored somewhere. It's possible! Big Brother is watching, and he may know who you are.

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    It's a dilemma, on the one hand I love tech, but on the other I hate this kind of usage. I guess it's just something we all need to get over if we want what the modern world is offering.

    Kind of fitting that Muse were playing some tracks from Drones to the wristbanded, tracked, scanned crowd.

    How horrifying, the UK is just getting worse by the day.

    Why do people have such a hard time understanding that you have no reasonable claim to privacy while in public???
    In my own home? That's a different story.
    At a music festival? My bank and visa already know i'll be there, my phone knows where I am, all my friends and followers might too via social media. What difference does some facial recognition make? If they find criminals with warrants in the crowd, that's awesome.

    Yes it can be abused by a dystopian government straight out of 1984 but so can every other technological invention of the last 100 years.

    I guess these are the same people complaining about police/sheriff scanning licence plates at a supermarket car park? If it helps catch those who shouldn't be driving or are driving dangerous/unregistered vehicles, that's awesome too.

    Last edited 17/06/15 1:13 pm

      Because all the things you mention, the bank info, the social media aspect etc. are all voluntary, you choose to pay with your credit card, you choose to post via social media. Scanning peoples faces without their knowledge is involuntary. The fact that you are in a public place should not mean that you have a zero level of privacy.. the question really is how much?

      Where is the line?

      Is your information then stored in a database somewhere in case it is required for purpose at a later date, how is this information stored? how is it used?.. we have no frigging idea!! This is the issue, and it was all done without our knowledge.

        Well said but people will counter with "now its just part of going out you can choose not to go if you don't want your picture taken".

        As the article mentions its a slippery slope. Quite honestly the Orwellian progression is proceeding at a frightening pace.

        So you're fine with it as long as they put a warning sign on the front door?
        CCTV is conditional on you entering a premises. Technically voluntary but not if you want to buy some food.

        Is scanning people at a concert any different than any other security camera at a bank or shopping center or a pub checking/scanning ID at the door? Sure it might not be identifying people in real time but it's still exactly the same "invasion of privacy". It just so happens that one of these methods is actually useful, the other is nothing more than a deterrent.

        We're perfectly fine with the government knowing everything about us and having our eye scans on our passports and when we travel... Do we just automatically not have any privacy at an airport? Why is a concert any different?

        I get people's concern but something like this is really no different than what we've already had in countless public places for decades. Why the sudden uproar now?

        I think by definition a public place is public. It's public knowledge. We like to have public access to government information... why does that only go one way? Is an eye witness in a murder or theft not admissible evidence because the "witness" invaded the criminals privacy by looking at them???
        My point is that it's ridiculous to expect privacy and secrecy in a public place.

        Last edited 17/06/15 3:14 pm

          "My point is that it's ridiculous to expect privacy and secrecy in a public place" - So, on that premise you're happy with random Nazi police state style stop and search tactic for anyone and everyone? In the "Show me your identification, I'm the Gestapo" kinda style. Just because you dare to use a public sidewalk to travel from one point to another? I recognise your world buddy, and it's not one I'd prefer to have my kids grow up in. I much prefer freedom (to exercise my right to privacy) over security.

            You do know that police already have the power to search you randomly on the street right?

            The difference between what we have now and a Nazi Gestapo state is the abuse of said power.

            If you want privacy in public then walk around with a mask because everyone who looks at you out on the street is violating your privacy. All those colleagues at work... they know where you are 8 hours per day, 5 days a week... that's a huge violation of privacy. Your IT department probably knows your whole browser history too.

            People have to be realistic when talking about privacy.

            Last edited 25/06/15 10:19 am

      The difference is this
      1. You know visa will know because you are scanning your visa (its a choice)
      2. You post on social network (again a choice)

      I can honestly probably speak for a large proportion of the community and say that most people don't mind that the facial recognition is there. They dont mind when police scanners scan cars for suspended drivers or DD charges.

      What they do mind is the random collection of data for people who havent broken the law.
      IE police cars all get scanners
      every day i am scanned in 47 locations
      police now (in public) know my private life. They know where i shop, they know where i get a massage, they know where i cheat on my wife (not married and no gf)
      the problem is that just because i leave my house it does not give me a right to be videotaped without consent

      It's like having a password on your computer or phone. There are things on there you dont want the world to see. and unless you leave an unlocked phone in front of someone you dont expect them to touch it.

      You dont think its fair game if you are out and someone takes pictures of your kids. you would think its bloody creepy if the guy then goes "mate if you dont want me to take pics of them dont go out in public"

      It's just creepy.

        It's creepy but it's not illegal.
        I think there's a huge difference between a creepy guy in the park taking photos of kids vs police scanning faces at airports, major events or popular tourist attractions.... People seem to equate the two... they are vastly different situations.

        You say that "just because i leave my house it does not give me a right to be videotaped without consent"... except the law says exactly that.... you CAN be videotaped without consent in public. Otherwise we couldn't have CCTV in the city, in car parks, shopping centers etc....
        With news crews and commercial use, it's different. They need your permission to use your image for commercial gain, mainly to show it won't be miss used... Paparazzi is another problem all together.
        In any case, all that is different to surveillance and safety.

        Hell even speed/red light cameras take your photo in public. Sure those one's only activate when you break the law... but there's other ones like on freeways that track average time between points ... thus taking photos of every vehicle. I bet the police are able to use traffic cams around the city to track vehicles too. It's all part of an important crime fighting toolkit.

          All the other examples you mention have a purpose other than to "track" a person.
          The fact that it's legal or illegal means nothiong. especially when the people who decide if something is legal are the people it bemifits.

          Hmm we can't randomly scoop peoples data
          Oh lets make a law saying we can.. HA!

          A year ago in qld lane filtering was illegal. Doesn't mean that its a bad idea.. now its legal.

          Security cameras catch thieves
          their primary goal is to catch thieves. thats why they only have a loop of avout 4 - 5 days max. and rewrite themselves.

          This is data storage for a reason other than just catching something that may happen

            What part of the story implies that there's tracking and long term data storage?
            This is EXACTLY like security cameras except you can actually identify people.
            It's used to catch criminals just like the mobile phone theft gang mentioned above. Or people on the run, or people with warrants out.

            My point is that you're speculating about the horrible future use. A government could make water illegal tomorrow if it wanted to. Doesn't mean it's going to happen.

            I'm not sure why you're over complicating the situation. It goes like this:
            *Camera scans person's face.
            *Uses algorithm to measure unique facial features.
            *Runs results through criminal database.
            *Returns a match if there is one.
            *Warns law enforcement
            *Potentially tracks said identified person on all cameras in the network at said event/location.
            If anything it's more on par with running fingerprints from a crime scene.

            What part of that violates your privacy as an ordinary citizen?
            Mostly likely, if you're not on any criminal database, you won't be identified anyway. Unless they're comparing against passport data... then maybe. But that would be pointless, expensive and very data/time intensive.
            That's not to mention that this system does exactly what a security guard watching some camera screens can do. It just does it better.

            I think you're getting too hung up on the word "TRACK". Which actually isn't even used in the above article.

            Last edited 25/06/15 10:13 am

              Wow i'm glad you nailed down how facial trackers work. Now that i know that i am not scared at all.
              There are already stories of people who have used things like license tracker technologies who have requested their data and it literally shows them a thousand tomes within a 12 month period. It literally tracks their movements.

              The data is being pulled from somewhere. This is just the beginning. It's obviously running against some database. How long once they perfect this technology on "people with warrants" will they then decide. Ok lets get people with child support owing. Then let's get people who made a mean facebook video. It's an expanding slide which does not need to begin.

              This is how every american phone call was logged, this is why the government is keeping metadata on all people in australia. Soon if they want you it will be as easy as

              Blocking your website so people can't see it
              Using your metadata to track you down
              Find your friends
              Using cameras to track you outside

              BAM! game over. This is what scares people.
              that if you dont put a system in check and let people know that the technology itself isn't bad but needs to be kept in check then you will become a victim of it.

                Right so the bottom line is .... it's not the technology it's how it's used.

                That's my main point here. Everything can be bad. Everything can be abused, that doesn't mean that technology used to catch criminals is inherently bad.
                I'm all for tracking catching people who skip out on child support or have warrants or outstanding fines etc... There's no point in having laws and penalties if they can't be enforced.

                Whether you or not you agree with the law/penalty is a different story all together.

                I know it's a cliche and not really a valid argument, but if I'm not a criminal, I've got nothing to hide. As long as all this stay within the confines of the law and use for law enforcement then law abiding citizens don't need to worry.
                If they start selling data, using it for advertising etc... that's different.

                What about the flip side? You're accused of murder but facial recognition/tracking puts you on the other side of town at the time of the murder... Do you hate the technology now?
                It's all about perspective and how it's used.

                Last edited 25/06/15 12:12 pm

              Also the faces scanned will go into a database to be verified.

              Camera takes image of you
              sends image back to server to be processed
              much like google images

              so all those 100,000 people are now stored in a database for no reason.

    I'm all for catching thieves.
    More cctv cameras too.
    Used to have a shop, 6 kids came and stole a bunch of stuff and ran away in different directions. Couldn't find them, neither could the cops.
    If cctv cameras were all over the place, they'd be caught.

      No they wouldn't. Unless everywhere was blanketed and your could track their every step from your shop to their homes.

    People must give things to get things. Give up a little privacy in a supermarket for the good chance to catch a dangerous criminal (or maybe the guy who killed you)

    But thats very different than facial scanning.
    Facial scanning is more like

    "someone in brisbane committed a murder. Hes which and between 5"8 and 6 feet. lets go door to door and search anyone who fits this.

    They aren't trying to catch the phone criminals. They are just tracking them to see if they are at a concert. They haven't committed a crime. They may not even attend.

    Its like burning the haystack to see if there is a needle.

      That's not how facial recognition works. It's not a "closest match" thing. It's like a fingerprint.
      And yes they maybe be tracking criminal who haven't committed a crime yet but again that's no different to someone in a shop asking to do a bag check.... Hey buddy, you're a known phone thief leaving a concert early, wanna show me what's in your pockets? |
      These guys are able to be tracked because their faces are on a criminal database. They have warrants or convictions.
      Just like pedophiles can't go near schools or people on house arrest need to wear ankle bracelets. I don't think it's unreasonable to check up on a known thief in a public place.

    where do you stand if you go jogging or cycling in your sports gear and you have no ID and you are asked to produce it?

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