Get Used to Face Recognition in Stadiums

Just because facial recognition was installed for one use case doesn’t mean it can’t or can’t be adapted to others. At airports, Delta Airlines began using face recognition for self-service baggage drop in 2017, but after proliferation in ticketing and security, face scanning is beginning to support personalized flight routes on airport screens and some inflight services. Clear also sells services to Major League Soccer clubs such as BMO Stadium, home of Los Angeles FC.

Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium last summer began a small-scale facial recognition pilot for entry with up to 100 Atlanta Falcons season ticket holders of the National Football League, but plans to expand to 36,000 Atlanta United FC season ticket holders as the MLS season begins late February.

A red carpet will be rolled out in Atlanta to make face recognition access exclusive and to keep fans interested, but “I don’t want a face to do anything,” says Karl Pierburg, CTO of AMB Sports and Entertainment, the Owners of the two teams and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Company executives say they are exploring ways to use facial recognition to increase operational efficiencies around the stadium, but only if the person chooses to attend. This may include verifying a person’s age for the sale of alcohol or the purchase of food and merchandise. AMB is also considering using handprints or Bluetooth signals from a smartphone app for ticketing and payments.

Despite such high hopes for the technology, the Mercedes-Benz stadium doesn’t use facial recognition to restrict access and deny people entry, says Pierburg, which a French soccer club has been experimenting with in 2020.

“I don’t think we would touch that,” he says. “Not that the safety of our fans isn’t important, but when you start general scanning there’s a line there where we really need to make sure we’re comfortable before we go about it.” He sees a difference between mass surveillance without consent and getting people to choose a way to reduce the time they spend in line.

Any system for entry can be used for exclusion, and the slippery slope of mission crawling is an issue whether facial recognition is deployed by a government or private entity, says Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the nonprofit Surveillance Technology Oversight Project. It’s been part of debates about facial recognition in New York for years, from its use by the NYPD during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests to its installation in apartment buildings and public housing.

Fox Cahn envisions a biometric economy springing up in stadiums and driving things like personalized advertising, similar to that seen in minority report. But once an entity gains the ability to track almost anyone, the technology can also be used to control and monitor movement, powers ripe for abuse.

“Face recognition gives us the wealthy and powerful tools that we can potentially use against all of us, and I’m very concerned about the full range of uses we’re going to see,” he says. Even in a stadium that uses the technology purely for commerce, “any private sector database is one court order away from being turned into a policing tool.”

The use of facial recognition in private venues with tens of thousands of people raises questions about whether it’s acceptable to apply the technology to a crowd who have no choice but to make up their minds. A search for stalkers in the crowd at a Taylor 2018 Swift concert raised similar questions.

In August 2020, a panel of three UK appeals judges ruled that South Wales Police violated a man’s privacy and human rights by subjecting him to facial recognition without consent. This system misidentified more than 90 per cent of the people on duty at Cardiff City’s stadium during a 2017 UEFA Champions League match.

Aside from privately owned facial databases, about half of the US population resides in DMV photo or mugshot databases used by police in criminal investigations, and the nationwide HART biometric database developed by the US Department of Homeland Security is expected to contain information on more than 270 million people included. The Prüm database, run by the European Union, is also set to expand facial recognition in public places across all countries in the bloc. Meanwhile, commercial services like Clearview AI and PimEyes are scraping facial data from billions of photos online. Get Used to Face Recognition in Stadiums

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