Artists, rights groups denounce 'invasive' palm-scanning of concertgoers by Amazon
A group of raised hands (Shutterstock)

More than 200 musical artists and 30 human rights groups on Tuesday endorsed a Fight for the Future-led campaign opposing the use of Amazon palm-scanning technology at Colorado's famous Red Rocks Amphitheatre.

"Introducing biometric surveillance technology at events, even just for the marginal-at-best 'convenience' of making the line move faster, makes music fans less safe."

Red Rocks Amphitheatre, which is owned and operated by the city and county of Denver, began using the technology—called Amazon One—as an optional replacement for physical or digital tickets earlier this year.

"Amazon signed a deal with entertainment company AEG to bring the technology to Red Rocks, which sells tickets on AEG's ticketing site, AXS," Fortune reports, noting that "it will be available at other venues in the coming months."

The new campaign includes an open letter calling on the venue and its ticketing partner to "immediately cancel all contracts with Amazon for the invasive Amazon One palm scanning technology, and ban all biometric surveillance at events and venues once and for all."

Signatories include Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill and Le Tigr, Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Ortiz, Gramatik, and Mannequin Pussy, as well as the organizations Access Now, American Friends Service Committee, Jobs With Justice, Kairos, Media Justice, Presente.org, and United We Dream.

"The spread of biometric surveillance tools like palm scans and facial recognition now threatens to destroy" concertgoers' experiences, the campaign warns, by transforming venues into "hotspots" for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids, false arrests, police harassment, and identity theft.

The letter notes that in 2019, over 40 major music festivals "responded to activists' demands to reject invasive facial recognition technology," and that "AEG is one of the many companies that has taken a strong stand" against the use of such technology.

"Red Rocks, AXS, and AEG must now go one step further and refuse palm-scanning devices and all other forms of invasive biometric surveillance," the letter continues. "Our privacy, safety, and lives are at stake."

An Amazon spokesperson called the new campaign's claims "inaccurate" and said that "Amazon One is not a facial recognition technology—it is an optional technology designed to make daily activities faster and easier for customers, and users who choose to participate must make an intentional gesture with their palm to use the service."

The spokesperson added that "safeguarding customer privacy is a foundational design principle," explaining that "Amazon One devices are protected by multiple security controls, and palm images are never stored on the Amazon One device. Rather, the images are encrypted and sent to a highly secure area we custom-built for Amazon One in the cloud where we create your palm signature."

For some supporters of the campaign, concerns about the technology outweigh any convenience.

Evan Greer is director of Fight for the Future, which not only is spearheading this effort against Amazon—long criticized by rights groups for various business practices—but has also led similar efforts, such as a campaign launched earlier this year to end U.S. retailers' use of facial recognition technology.

Greer—also a musician who recently released an album titled Spotify is Surveillance—said in a statement Tuesday that "I don't want anyone coming to one of my concerts to have to worry that they'll be subjected to invasive surveillance, or coerced into handing over their sensitive biometric information to a corporation."

"Music festivals and many concert venues are already unsafe, exclusive, and inaccessible for many marginalized folks, including trans and nonbinary people," she added. "Introducing biometric surveillance technology at events, even just for the marginal-at-best 'convenience' of making the line move faster, makes music fans less safe."

"We have to stop this technology from spreading before it becomes impossible to avoid."

Fight for the Future campaign director Caitlin Seeley George, who lives near and has attended events at Red Rocks, said that "it pains me that this palm-scanning technology is being used in such a special place, on people who just want to go and enjoy a live show and likely don't understand the risks of giving over their biometric data—risks like identity theft and having data passed on to abusive law enforcement agencies or marketing companies."

"We have to stop this technology from spreading before it becomes impossible to avoid," she said, "and we expect places like Red Rocks to champion the safety of music lovers over this dangerous and invasive surveillance."

Siena Mann, campaign manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, pointed out that "biometrics collection is central to Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) and police departments' surveillance infrastructure," and expressed concern about law enforcement gaining access to the data.

"Thousands visit Red Rocks every month to experience amazing performances, not to be part of some dangerous biometric surveillance experiment," Mann said. "Amazon using the guise of convenience to convince droves of concertgoers to offer up their biometric data is twisted, disturbing, and unacceptable. Simply put, palm scans and other forms of biometric data collection, like facial recognition, are tools of state violence."

This post has been updated with a statement from Amazon.