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MLB’s Phillies fuss with face biometrics, find out what digital rights groups think

MLB’s Phillies fuss with face biometrics, find out what digital rights groups think

As Major League Baseball’s postseason begins, fans of the Philadelphia Phillies are using the team’s use of face biometrics for its Go-Ahead Entry scheme at Citizens Bank Park, and privacy advocates are protesting.

As reported in The Voice, last Thursday, members of Fight for the Future and other digital rights organizations gathered for a demonstration outside the stadium to argue that collecting biometric data should not join peanuts and crackerjacks as notable features of a day at the ballpark. The group also published an open letter, in which they call on MLB owners and venue operators to “protect the privacy and safety of fans, players, and workers by putting an end to the use of facial recognition and other biometric technology at sporting events and in your venues.”

The ticketless Go-Ahead system, the pilot for which launched in August, lets fans who are over 18 opt in by registering a selfie in the MLB Ballpark app. Biometric digital IDs are generated from the image, which is then deleted. Registered guests can enter the park through a dedicated lane at the first base gate without having to scan a paper ticket or a phone. Instead, scanners will use face authentication to match their face to their biometric ID. As of the end of August, the app had already recorded 7,000 enrolments.

Fight for the Future, an activist group that successfully stymied Amazon’s effort to bring palm scans for biometric ticketing to Colorado’s Red Rocks Amphitheatre, calls the MLB pilot “techno-solutionism at its worst.” Its letter, signed by 11 advocacy organizations, argues that “introducing discriminatory and broken technology takes us backwards in broad efforts to make stadiums safer spaces for everyone.”

“While vendors advertise biometric tech as ‘convenient,’ we must be clear that there is nothing convenient about the risks inherent in the collection of peoples’ most sensitive, personal and unchangeable data,” it says.

Authentication, not facial recognition

In an AP report, representatives from MLB say the Go-Ahead program took two years to develop and prioritizes safety and privacy. While it will be paired at Citizens Bank Park with AI-based security screening from Evolv Technology, the Phillies organization says the data it collects is not attached to any law enforcement, will not be shared, and will solely be used to let people into the ballpark.

“This is not scanning a crowd looking for people,” says VP and chief technology officer for the team, Sean Walker. “This is determining if a person is authenticated. It’s not facial surveillance.”

MLB executives seem to like the results so far. There are plans to roll out the biometric system in more parks next year, and the Phillies, who have the top wild card spot in the NL East and will play postseason games this week, may add additional cameras for the playoffs, as needed. They join a growing number of sports and entertainment sectors turning to facial recognition for ticketless entry. The NFL has toyed with facial authentication, and Universal recently announced that its forthcoming Epic Universe theme park in Orlando would be getting the technology — along with all of its existing Orlando parks.

Pushback, however, remains steady. Late last month, 32 civil rights groups called on New York City Council to ban the use of biometric surveillance in public spaces and residential buildings. Citing the 2019 NIST FRVT results (despite more recent assessments) the group’s memo says facial recognition discriminates against visible minority groups and gives those who control it too much power.

The New York coalition joins the 120 civil society organizations and 60 experts who have called for a global stoppage of the use of facial recognition for surveillance.

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