Colleges face pressure from all sides to drop facial recognition technology

  • More than 150 college faculty members signed a letter urging colleges to drop facial recognition technology.
  • The letter comes amid a national anti-facial recognition campaign, led by Fight for the Future.

More than 150 college faculty members from across the country have signed an open letter urging institutions of higher education to ban the use of facial recognition on campuses. 

In a letter published Monday, the academics wrote, "facial recognition poses a unique threat to safety, civil liberties, and academic freedom on campus...Law enforcement and ICE are already using facial recognition to search databases without their knowledge or consent, and college campuses facial recognition systems could provide new data for law enforcement and ICE to mine and target vulnerable populations." 

"Facial recognition is invasive, enabling anyone with access to the system to watch students’ movements, try to analyze facial expressions, monitor who they talk to, what they do outside of class, and every move they make."   

The letter points out the technology could have a particularly negative impact on minorities. 

[RELATED: AI systems to detect 'hate speech' could have 'disproportionate negative impact' on African Americans: Study]

"It is inherently biased, highlighted by a recent study by the National Institute of Standards and Technology that showed some systems misidentifying people of color up to 100 percent of the time. Such misidentification on campus could result in traumatic interactions with law enforcement, loss of class time, denied access to dorms or other campus buildings, disciplinary action, and potentially a criminal record," it stated. 

Among the faculty members who signed on to the letter was UCLA law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who was falsely matched with a mugshot in a test run by Fight for the Future, which headed the national anti-facial recognition campaign. 

The faculty members also pointed out that the storage of such biometric data could be a gold mine for hackers and stalkers.

"And we’ve seen that many schools are ill-equipped to safeguard this data. In the wrong hands, these systems, and the data they generate, could be used to harm students. Facial recognition is invasive, enabling anyone with access to the system to watch students’ movements, try to analyze facial expressions, monitor who they talk to, what they do outside of class, and every move they make."

"If administrators care about their community members’ safety and basic rights, they should follow the lead of dozens of other institutions and clearly commit to not using facial recognition on campus," the letter concludes. 

The letter from faculty members comes amid a national campaign urging colleges to "Ban Facial Recognition." 

[RELATED: Students nationwide fight to 'Ban Facial Recognition' technology on campus]

Amid that campaign, UCLA announced it would drop plans to continue developing and using such technology, as Campus Reform reported.

"UCLA will not pursue the use of this technology. We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and vastly outweighed by the concerns of our campus community,” UCLA administrative vice-chancellor Michael Beck said.

“I’m glad the administration listened to the community and is abandoning this plan. Other school administrators should follow suit. Racially biased surveillance does not make our communities safer," Crenshaw said. 

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Jon Street
Jon Street | Managing Editor

Jon Street is a news editor for Campus Reform. Six years ago, Jon cut his reporting teeth fresh out of college as an intern at Media Research Center's CNSNews.com, where he interviewed multiple members of Congress and former presidential candidates. From there, he went on to complete a stint at Watchdog.org, where his exclusive, investigative work was picked up or cited by the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, National Review, and the Drudge Report, among others. More recently, Jon spent three years as an assistant editor at TheBlaze.com. In his free time, Jon enjoys trying new coffeehouses around the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area and traveling back to his home state of Missouri to spend time with his family.

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