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Tom Morello, DIIV, Kathleen Hanna & More Sign Letter Protesting Amazon Palm Scanning At Red Rocks

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with statements from Amazon and Red Rocks spokespeople.

Hundreds of musicians have signed an open letter urging Denver’s iconic Red Rocks Amphitheater to cancel a contract with Amazon for the tech giant’s palm-scanning technology. The letter claims that the “convenient” form of ticketless entry into the venue is a potential Trojan horse for invasive, nefarious actions.

“[But] the truth is that palm scanning, like facial recognition, is an example of biometric data collection, and could turn Red Rocks into the site of ICE raids, police violence, and false arrests,” it reads. “We’re calling on Red Rocks, AXS and AEG to reject this dangerous and invasive technology.”

The missive was signed by more than 200 artists, including Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna, Deerhoof, MannequinPussy, Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis, Downtown Boys, DIIV, Gramtik, Anti-Flag and many more, as well as more than 30 organizations including United We Dream, Secure Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, CFA, Athena and more.

Red Rocks rolled out the Amazon One Palm Recognition service in September in what it said was a more hygienic alternative to traditional hard tickets. Among the concerns outlined in the protest letter:

  • “Abusive state agencies like DHS and police departments are in the business of routinely collecting biometric data, allowing them to systematically target and surveil Black and brown people and social activists. Amazon has a long history of willingly collaborating with these agencies, including recently when Amazon worked with cops to track participants in BLM protests.”
  • “Unlike face and fingerprint scans on phones, the data collected through the Amazon One palm scanners will be stored in the cloud (as opposed to on someone’s individual device), posing unique and well documented security vulnerabilities. Regardless of what Amazon says about the safety of the data and its privacy policies, at the end of the day, government agencies – and hackers – consistently access data collected by corporations if they want to badly enough.”
  • “Introducing palm scanning devices is a slap in the face to fans and artists that have fought so hard to promote safety for everyone at live events. It’s simply a matter of time before we hear of cases of palm scans misidentifying people in the ways that facial recognition has – often with violent and life altering consequences – but most concerning of all is the fact that this new technology will make the data of thousands of people vulnerable to ongoing government tracking and abuse AND malicious hackers.”

The letter calls on Red Rocks, its ticketing partner, AXS and AEG Worldwide to immediately cancel all contracts to use the tech, as well as ban all biometric surveillance at venues and events. According to organizers, after the Sept. roll-out of Amazon One scanners at Red Rocks, AXS reportedly planned to add it to more venues soon; a spokesperson for AEG Live had not returned requests for comment at press time.

A spokesperson for Red Rocks tells Billboard that the group behind the letter has not requested any information about the program, noting that that it is an optional “amenity” for patrons. “Technology continues to shape all aspects of the sports and entertainment business. Amazon’s and AXS’s collaboration on the Amazon One palm scanning technology is an exciting move that enhances ticketing operations and the fan experience at Red Rocks,” read the statement from RR spokesperson Brian Kitts.

“While we understand fans have always had concerns about new tech, we trust the ability of our partners to move our industry forward.  Importantly, the Amazon One palm scanning technology is an optional program.  We respect fans who may not wish to opt in and will continue to encourage registration for fans who choose the program’s benefits.”

Organizers behind the letter say they’re worried that the data collected from palm scanners could be sent to “government agencies that want to track and target political activists, people of color, and other marginalized groups. The fact that Amazon is storing the palm scan data in the cloud also raises unprecedented identity theft concerns, given that biometric data are largely immutable – they cannot be changed or replaced if stolen – and corporate cloud databases have frequently been targeted by hackers.”

In a statement to Billboard, an Amazon spokesperson called the claims in the letter “inaccurate” and said that Amazon One is not similar to 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,” read the statement. “We understand that how we protect customer data is important to customers — this is very important to us too, and that’s why safeguarding customer privacy is a foundational design principle for Amazon One. 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.”

The letter also noted that in 2019 a coalition of activist groups, artists and music fans — including some of those who signed the Red Rocks missive — convinced 40 large U.S. music festivals to reject facial recognition tech at venues. “Thousands visit Red Rocks every month to experience amazing performances, not to be part of some dangerous biometric surveillance experiment,” said Siena Mann, Campaign Manager for the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition in a statement.

“Amazon using the guise of convenience to convince droves of concert-goers 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.”

Read the full text of the letter here.