Download Festival is being turned into an authoritarian nightmare by Leicestershire police

I’ve dedicated a large number of my blogs on festivals especially Glastonbury and Reading, but Download Festival isn’t one I’ve been to, at least in this incarnation, but I have been to Donnington for a Monsters of Rock but more of that another time. This blog is about something less fun, and vastly concerning to anyone worried about civil liberties and abuse of police power in an increasing surveillance state.

The Register has a story about the use of facial recognition software and surveillance of people via the RFID wristbands festival goers will have this year. It points out just what this is all in aid of.

According to an interview with DC Kevin Walker, published in Police Oracle on Monday, “Strategically placed cameras will scan faces at the Download Festival site in Donington before comparing [them] with a database of custody images from across Europe.”

The Register has been told the database of “lawfully held European custody photos” is “a stand-alone database of legally held custody photographs drawn together with partners in Europol”.

In response to a freedom of information request we filed to Leicestershire Police in April asking whether NeoFace had, or could, utilise information received from outside of its custody database — making specific reference to SIS II — we were told: “NeoFace has been intentionally limited in scope to ensure that it only uses images held on our custody database. It is a stand-alone system that does not link with other national databases such as the PNC.”

So think about this for a minute. Festival goers are going to be scanned, and presumably checked to see if their face matches anyone of the police database. Now as good as this software is, it’s not 100% accurate so innocent people will suddenly be logged on the database by the police but that’s not the point. The point is the fact this breaks a right to privacy but as the Register points out…

We have also learned that the Police Oracle‘s publication of the interview has caused significant upset for management at Leicestershire Police, who did not want any advance publicity of their “new” surveillance project.

The public would have been informed that it had been placed under surveillance after the event had ended, presumably as part of a “you didn’t know, therefore it wasn’t intrusive”, justification for the scheme.

Leicestershire Police were going to tell nobody going to festival that they were having their faces scanned and their entire movements tracked until after the festival was over, and even then most people won’t have known.  Considering how some people like to keep their wristband on for months, even years after the festival, the police could effectively track these people for as long as the RFID chip lasted.So this weekend people are having their faces scanned, checked against a police database and their every movement tracked and they’ve not been told about it or asked to give their approval, and they could be tracked long after they return home.

I know they’ll be people saying ‘but if you’re innocent there’s nothing to worry about‘ but it’s another sign that under the Tories the UK is shifting to a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality that chips away at one of our most basic freedoms. I’ve written to my MP in order to see if she can bring it up in the Commons and I suggest people do the same as if this becomes the norm not just at Download, but Reading, T in the Park and even Glastonbury then that’s effectively a surveillance state and we can’t  sit down and take it.