Boston Owns Up To Concert Surveillance

The city of Boston has admitted to spending $650,000 to test surveillance software on fans without their knowledge during the Boston Calling festival last year. 
Face recognition software. 

News of the surveillance was uncovered last month by alt weekly Dig Boston, after a reporter found evidence online that city agencies had captured thousands of faces in efforts to screen people for identification, conduct video analytics and detect suspicious objects.

City spokeswoman Kate Norton told the Boston Globe the $650,000 was for temporary licenses for the IBM software, which the city has decided against purchasing. She said the city isn’t scheduled to use similar surveillance at public events but did note future tests could be conducted without notifying the public.

The city has denied the software was used for racial profiling.

“Race-based searches were not used by the city at any course during this technology demonstration,” the city said in a statement. “In fact, the searches were not focused on any individual characteristics of people at all, but rather situations that were deemed a potential threat to public safety [such as] abandoned bags [or] vehicles illegally parked.”

Likewise, an IBM spokeswoman told the Globe neither “face capture … nor facial recognition” were used during Boston Calling.

Facial recognition or not, civil liberties advocates aren’t happy with the news.

“What really matters is that a private corporation was brought in to conduct a surveillance experiment on thousands of unwitting partygoers,” Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts told the paper. “This is the opposite of the way a democratic society should function.”?