Big Brother is Moshing You – Festival Crowd Surveillance

Festival crowd

Festival crowd

What is the biggest new arrival at Festivals in 2015? We’ll give you a clue – it isn’t a band or an attraction. Surveillance systems are making their own wave at UK events this summertime. Alongside an RFID chip system employed at Download to potentially capture marketing material to help maximise sales opportunities, Leicestershire police also revealed they were using a facial recognition system to scan guests.

Who Watches the Watchmen? 

Although not an infringement of our civil liberties, you cannot help feeling a little creeped out by the arrival of the electric eye in the sky. Is it not enough that our movements around urban centres are constantly monitored, without having to subject our behaviour at festivals to a saturation of cameras? As ever these measures are being promoted under the umbrella of public safety, with the authorities claiming that the Download crowd were scanned and compared to Europe wide databases in order to find criminals on the run.

Download? Upload! 

If this is the case, why does it leave such a sinister feeling in the pit of one’s stomach? Possibly because it’s a well-known fact that people attend festivals to have a little bit of off the radar fun, perhaps even indulging in certain behaviours to help escape the hard grind of regular life. Can we trust the powers that be to not also be using their Download cameras to build up a dossier of individuals whose facial symmetry belongs to that of a serious party person? Such information could be used to blacklist and investigate signs of non-compliance with the law.

Uri Geller Style Tech 

In an even more outrageous turn of events Glastonbury, the most hallowed of UK festivals, has invited surveillance onto its lush, green fields. Keeping it organic, they’ve granted permission to the police for a different kind of scanning. People with an exceptional ability to remember faces will be allowed to proliferate through the crowds. At the end of each day they download the faces they’ve seen in a debriefing session with their handlers that sounds like nothing short of a Phillip K Dick novel. Is this the sort of psy-tech that the government have been actually been investing in whilst making us laugh at the red herring of remote viewing and The Men Who Stare at Goats?

Apparently, no matter whether human or technology driven, this kind of behaviour is nothing new. Research into MoD budgets shows that the department were looking into spending around £100K in 2014 on using camera systems to observe crowd behaviour. Their target audience was also Download, sparking questions as to whether some perceived link exists between dissidence and Heavy Metal in the minds of the authorities. We must also ask to what end is this data being harvested? Is it merely to work out better foot-flow at over-crowded train stations or are they looking at ways to control the masses of people who will riot over naughty banker antics when Russell Brand finally inspires a revolution?

You Know What They Say… 

It is not difficult to already predict the official line on these undertakings. The old adage of ‘if you have nothing to hide, what are you worried about’ will be bandied around with the indulgence of a chef using a new salt shaker. Of course, there is an alternative viewpoint that says the liberty of the people is sacrosanct and that the authorities are only elected to represent the views of the majority. However, no one remembers consenting to the arrival of such intrusive observational methods in the manifestos of any popular political party at the last election.

The government and local authorities are not the only ones trying their hands at a little bit of people watching. Remember our article a few weeks ago on the most popular drugs to take at festivals? The information used for the survey behind the infographic was not collected via questionnaire or interview. Instead the analysts behind the production decided to harvest comments on social media about various types of drug use at different festivals. The knee-jerk reaction of the blogosphere was that if people are stupid enough to deposit details of their personal habits on the net, then they deserve to get surveyed, yet again playing into the morals and games of the authorities with the onus of responsibility for the monitoring placed on the individual. Although this doesn’t displace any wonder at what kind of Big Brother-esque systems are at play on the web for agencies like GCHQ.

This Fence is So Comfortable 

Nonetheless, the most shocking thing of all is the reaction of Joe Public to these measures. When the festival movement started, with all respect to its associated off-shoots there would have been riots before people would have accepted cameras and wide spread surveillance at their events. Now we drink it down as easily as a four pack of fruit flavoured cider. It used to be the case that the scene was the home of rebellion. Remember the Battle of the Beanfield and the hippy movement’s attempt to give us a break from capitalist culture, proffering alternatives that could be found naked dancing on fields of green?

Instead these are much stranger days. Imagine if the government released a special phone app to ensure your safety at festivals by activating your camera and filming your ever movement? You get the feeling that at least half the general population would probably think this a good idea and bring an extra battery to ensure that their phone wouldn’t lose charge to run the damned software.

As the Fingers Clench to A Fist 

First they came for the metallers? At what point do we start standing up for a basic rights to live life free from the constant orbit of the nanny state and endless meddlers trying to tell us how to exist? Somewhere down the line there was a power shift so small that we barely noticed. Now the ripples in that pond are beginning to hit us in our expressive lives of partying and pleasure isn’t it time we said something?

Ultimately everyone these days seems so disconnected. Perhaps it is a testament to the power of the ruling elites to enact a system of social control onto us all that we no longer have the ability to mobilise as a social entity against oppression. Surely there can be no greater validator of this success that the authorities can install such surveillance paraphernalia into the one place that social cohesion is supposed to be at its maximum level – a UK music festival.