Students at universities across the United States participated in protests to demand their schools refrain from using facial recognition on campus.
The protests on Monday came after pushback led by students and digital rights group Fight for The Future against a proposed facial recognition program at the University of California – Los Angeles (UCLA) led the school to reverse course and drop the technology. Students at around a dozen schools staged protests on campus in person this week while 36 schools saw online actions including petitions.
“Colleges are becoming a flashpoint in the fight against facial recognition and we are really seeing a huge surge in students, professors, faculty and researchers organizing around this,” said Evan Greer, the deputy director of Fight for the Future.
In 2019, UCLA administrators proposed using facial recognition software for security surveillance on campus. In a campaign against the program, Fight for the Future ran facial recognition technology on more than 400 photos of UCLA faculty members and athletes and found the software incorrectly matched 58 of those with photos in a mugshot database. The majority of those misidentified by the database were people of color.
Following the changes from UCLA, students at a number of universities across the US sought to push back against proposed or actual programs at their own schools. On Monday, students from nearly a dozen schools including Kent State University, DePaul University, Yale Law School and University of Oregon sent letters and emails to administrators expressing opposition to facial recognition program.
Dominique Coronel, a student at DePaul University who participated in the action said he was compelled as a first generation Mexican-American college student disturbed by deportations carried out by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) to speak out against the technology.
“Now that we know (Ice) is likely using facial recognition, I’m even more compelled to participate in campaigns to ban the technology from campuses,” he said. “Education should be a safe place, but this technology hurts the most vulnerable people in society”.
Around 10 schools in the US are confirmed to be using facial recognition on campus, according to data from Fight for the Future, and even more have refused to say whether they are using it. A handful of schools, including Harvard, Columbia, University of Michigan, and – most recently – UCLA, have now committed to not using the technology.
At the heart of the campaign on Monday is an attempt to get more clarity around which schools use the technology, and which have pledged not to use it, Greer said, and ultimately action from legislators.
“In the end, it shouldn’t be up to some campus safety officer or even a college president or administrator to make decisions like this without having all the facts or knowing all the potential risks of implementing such a system,” she said. “This underscores the broad need for lawmakers to get off their asses, and do their jobs, and pass legislation to ban the use of this technology.”