Privacy rights groups call for ‘day of action’ to ban facial recognition at all schools

Privacy rights groups call for ‘day of action’ to ban facial recognition at all schools

Fight for the Future (FFTF) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy are organizing what they call a ‘National Day of Action to Ban Facial Recognition from College Campuses’ on March 2.

FFTF and other groups have also called for and have actively been lobbying for a total federal ban on facial recognition technology, although there has been little action in Congress on the numerous bills that have been introduced this past year to regulate facial recognition and other forms of biometrics, as Biometric Update has reported.

“We ultimately believe that facial recognition should be banned across the board,” admitted FFTF Deputy Director Evan Greer.

Organizing protests at schools around the country, the group was joined by more than 40 other civil and privacy rights organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, National Center for Transgender Equality, Liberty Coalition, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Color of Change, Jewish Voice for Peace, Jobs with Justice, Consumer Federation of America, Mijente, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, and the National Immigration Law Center.

Their goal is to stop what they assert are “unscrupulous” companies that claim facial recognition surveillance will make schools safer. But a significant number of school security officials believe the technology will improve safety in many ways.

“This mass surveillance experiment does not belong in our public spaces, and certainly not in our schools,” said Jake Martinez, director of youth programs at the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Students should not have to give up their privacy and take part in this dangerous project as a prerequisite to stepping foot on campus.”

“With facial recognition, your administration could track everywhere you go on campus – who you hang out with, what you believe, where you party, who you hook up with. They could even grade you based on what your face looks like and then store that info forever,” said a video produced by FFTF posted to social media in which the group called on college students to oppose and protest the use of facial recognition at their universities and colleges.

“Just imagine you’re in college – exploring new ideas, meeting new people, going to parties, dating, attending rallies,” Greer said. “Now imagine doing all of that while under constant surveillance, not knowing who is watching you, what’s happening to your biometric data, or what the implications of that may be. There is no way to protect students’ rights and ability to thrive at college when the school uses facial recognition technology.”

“On behalf of leading consumer, privacy, and civil liberties organizations, we are calling on administrations to commit to not using facial recognition technology (for non-personal reasons, e.g. when used to unlock personal phones) in schools,” the group urged in the letter addressed “to school administrators” as it began organization efforts at schools across the nation. “This invasive and biased technology inherently violates the liberty and the rights of students and faculty and has no place in our educational institutions.”

FFTF reiterates claims it has previously made about the technology being unsafe, biased and invasive. The group also says the data collected is vulnerable to theft, as schools are not equipped to protect it, that facial recognition threatens academic freedom by exposing students and educators to official retaliation, and that despite this schools systems across the U.S. are spending millions of dollars “conducting unethical experiments” with it, while admitting to using it to target tardiness or minor infractions.

The group concludes with a call for adminstrators to pledge not to use facial recognition, and a demand that elected officials legislate against it’s use in schools.

FFTF earlier released a scorecard that identified roughly 100 colleges in the U.S. in which it detailed the extent of their pledges to ban facial recognition technologies on campus and the proposals some universities and colleges already have put forward to deploy facial recognition technology as part of campus security enhancement efforts.

“We asked prominent colleges and universities if they plan to use facial recognition. Some were happy to provide a statement confirming that their school is not using facial recognition and won’t use it in the future,” the group said, emphasizing though that “others might use [it] since they either failed to respond to our requests, or they issued a statement implying they might use this tech in the future. Even worse, a few schools are using facial recognition programs right now.”

Greer argues that facial recognition and other biometric businesses are “aggressively marketing their tech to colleges and claiming that facial recognition can increase campus safety, streamline attendance, and even measure whether students are paying attention. But the truth is there is no justifiable reason to use it.”

Institutions of higher learning which have said they will not employ facial recognition include Boston College, Brown University, Columbia University, Colorado State University, Cornell University, Dartmouth College, DePaul University, MIT, Michigan State University, Georgia Tech, NYU, Hampshire College, Kent State University, Rice University, University of Florida, Oregon State University, UPenn, and John Hopkins University. Among the more than 30 schools which have not said they will ban facial recognition on their campuses include Harvard, Yale, Oberlin, Howard University, Ohio State, Reed, and Sarah Lawrence College.

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