Major music festivals across the U.S, including Bonnaroo, Austin City Limits and Pitchfork Music Festival, have agreed to ban the use of facial recognition technology. Fight for Future, a digital rights advocacy group, is behind the campaign to ban the technology, which they label discriminatory and an invasion of privacy. While facial recognition is facing a push back from concerned citizens, other forms of technology, such as video surveillance and cashless payment systems have been praised as an effective way of improving safety and security for music festival attendees and artists.

A “moral imperative” for festival organizers
“We just launched a new scorecard showing where major music festivals stand when it comes to using invasive and racially biased facial recognition technology on fans,” said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for Future. While a number of festivals, including Austin City Limits, Bannaroo and Electric Forest, have pledged to not use biometric surveillance, Riot Fest, Coachella, SXSW, and all other events run by AEG Presents have failed to respond to Fight for Future’s multiple requests to clarify their stance on the issue. Coachella, in particular, commented that they’re “not looking to add to this conversation at this time.” Matt Bettenhausen, senior vice president and chief security officer at AEG, said he’s “not there yet” on the security benefits of the technology. “Festival organizers have a moral imperative to clearly commit to not using this invasive and racially biased technology on music fans,” Greer further explained (studies have shown facial recognition is less accurate when used on women and people of color). “They should never put our safety and basic rights at risk just to collect our data and turn it into profit.”

Improving festival security with video surveillance
Security is a top priority for organizers of any music festival. As such, it’s important that events have a reliable video surveillance system, Taylored Systems advises. Video surveillance improves safety, crowd management, and entry screening for all attendees. For example, electronic dance festival, Ultra Music Festival in Miami, Florida recently started using video surveillance across all entry points with recording and playback made possible in an onsite command center. As a result, there was roughly a 50% decline in the number of arrests at the event in 2017. The video surveillance system gave security the opportunity to view entry points and assess situations quickly, which meant any problems could be resolved as soon as possible. The festival was therefore their safest event yet. 

No cash, no problem
Cashless payment systems have been adopted by a number of music festivals, such as Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival in San Francisco, Coachella, and Australia’s Vanfest Music and Arts. Cashless payment systems typically involve festival attendees being given RFID wristbands, which they can top up with credit to make on-site transactions during the festival. Coachella, in particular, allows attendees to make cashless payments with their smartphones and plans to adopt RFID wristbands in the future. The organizers also partnered with American Express to give attendees the chance to win rewards throughout the festival. This new technology has been received positively by festival goers who no longer have to worry about carrying their wallets around and the risk of losing them. Attendees can therefore enjoy a greater sense of security and are free to enjoy the festival with less worry. 

Technology is continually evolving to improve the music festival experience. While some tech trends like facial recognition pose serious ethical and privacy concerns, others like cashless payment and video surveillance, promise to create the safest music festivals yet.