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Facial recognition tech used to scan for stalkers at Taylor Swift show: report

Image: Taylor Swift performs onstage at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Californ
Taylor Swift performs in May at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, where facial recognition technology was used to search for stalkers. Copyright Christopher Polk / TAS18 Getty Images
Copyright Christopher Polk / TAS18 Getty Images
By Dareh Gregorian with NBC News Tech and Science News
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Security at a Taylor Swift show secretly used facial recognition technology on the crowd to look out for 'Trouble' — her stalkers, a new report says


Security at a Taylor Swift show in California secretly used facial recognition technology on the crowd to search for stalkers, Rolling Stone reported Thursday.

A kiosk that showed rehearsal clips of her to entertain fans at her May 18 show at the Rose Bowl had a facial recognition camera hidden inside, which transferred pictures of the unwitting fans to a "command post" in Nashville, Mike Downing, chief security officer of Oak View Group, told the magazine.

"Everybody who went by would stop and stare at it, and the software would start working," he said. In Nashville, the pictures were cross-referenced with a database of "hundreds" of known Swift stalkers, Downing said.

Oak View Group is an advisory panel for concert venues, and Downing said he was invited to the show for a demonstration of the system by the kiosk's manufacturer, who was not identified. A rep for Oak View Group did not respond to a request for comment.

It's unclear whether the hidden camera was used at more venues during Swift's recently concluded "Reputation" tour.

A representative for Swift did not respond to a request for comment.

Facial recognition, once an obscure technology, has become more common in the world of security and law enforcement, as well as in consumer products. New iPhones use a form of facial recognition to verify a user's identity and unlock the device, while Facebook can find people in photos based on their facial features. Casinos use facial recognition to identify high rollers and cheaters, while Ticketmaster is working on a system that would allow concert-goers to use the technology to get into venues faster.

Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst for the American Civil Liberties Union, said that while the desire to ensure Swift's safety is understandable, the use of facial recognition technology without informing the public is problematic.

"Stalkers are a real problem for celebrities and everybody understands it's important for people like Taylor Swift to be safe from them," Stanley said. "This was done in a relatively sneaky way."

"People should know about this, preferably before they buy their ticket," he said.

Many major tech companies are developing facial recognition technology and marketing it to the government as well as private security operations — deals that have come under growing scrutiny from privacy advocates and even employees at those companies.

Online retail giant Amazon has developed a facial recognition software called Rekognition that's being used by some local police departments and has reportedly been pitched to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The possible sale of the technology has drawn scrutiny from Amazon shareholders, members of Congress and Amazon employees.

A form of the technology is already being used at more than a dozen U.S. airports and caught an impostor trying to enter the country on a fake passport in August, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said.

The U.S. Secret Service last month started testing a system using security cameras to identify potential "people of interest" outside the White House.

In New York State, the technology is being used at bridges and tunnels, and the Department of Motor Vehicles has used it to identify more than 21,000 cases of identity theft or fraud, state officials have said.


A 2016 study by the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law found that law enforcement facial recognition networks include more than 117 million American adults.

"The technology is moving faster than our ability to place checks and balances on it," Stanley said.

Google on Thursday announced it was going to hold off on selling facial recognition products until it's worked through "important technology and policy questions."

"It's up to all of us to ensure that AI is developed responsibly for social good," Kent Walker, Google's senior vice-president of global affairs, wrote in a blog post.

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