Back in April, Tone Deaf ran a story about a NSW Police proposal that would see cops jettisoning their sniffer dog program in favour of high-flying sniffer drones. The drones would sniff out drugs and then take snaps of the offenders, sharing the data with officers on the ground.
It was, as most of our readers managed to gather, an April Fool’s Day prank. There is, as far as we know, no NSW Police drone program and if there is, they haven’t unveiled any plans to deploy it at music festivals, and they certainly have no plans for getting rid of their sniffer dog program.
However, it appears there really is no longer a need for satire, because the world does just ridicule itself. As Gizmodo reports, police in the UK recently used facial recognition technology to scan the faces of thousands of attendees at the Download music festival without their knowledge.
Leicestershire Police used Download to do a test run of their new facial recognition technology in an attempt to nab “organised criminals” who specifically target music festivals to “steal mobile phones”, according to a report in Police Oracle.
The footage collected by the facial recognition tech is then compared against a database of custody images to identify the criminals. Before you ask, no, we’re not making this up. The Police Oracle story caught the attention of the BBC, TechDirt, and Noisey.
It’s nothing new. Facial recognition is becoming increasingly commonplace in law enforcement. In the US, it’s being used by the FBI and a number of local police departments, though generally in more limited settings specific to an ongoing investigation, such as a department store.
Download Festival marks one of the first times the technology has been used in such a broad, outdoor setting. As Noisey notes, facial recognition technology had previously been employed by authorities during Boston Calling festival in 2013, which came shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing.
However, the police operation at Donnington Park came seemingly without justification, or for that matter, explanation. According to The Register, police claimed the public would have been informed after the conclusion of the event. You didn’t know, so it wasn’t intrusive, right?
Also interesting to note is the fact that Outbreak Festival, which was to take place in the same location as Download, was mysteriously canceled at the last minute three weeks ago. According to Noisey, there was no facial recognition planned for the site.
The entire festival had been set up, but safety concerns raised by Leicestershire police reportedly prevented the event from going ahead. Whether Download Festival had much of a choice in becoming the guinea pig for the police’s new technology is not known.
As Gizmodo notes, it’s a classic slippery slope situation. A massive amount of data on innocent members of the public could now be sitting on a police hard drive somewhere, despite their insistence that all footage was destroyed after the festival.