UCLA says it will not use CCTV facial recognition on campus after students’ concerns
University of California, Los Angeles’s (UCLA) Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck told Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future – a leading activist group opposing facial recognition technology at universities and other schools nationwide – in a letter that “that UCLA will not pursue the use of facial recognition software technology,” saying “we have determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community.”
Meanwhile, Michigan’s Oakland Community College (OCC) blocked students’ efforts to organize protests backed by Fight for the Future and affiliated groups to oppose facial recognition technology from being used by the school.
OCC administrators canceled a planned student-organized event at which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan and the Detroit Justice Coalition were scheduled to speak about the threats posed by facial recognition on school campuses. The community college’s administrators also stopped efforts by the student government to pass non-binding resolutions to ban the use of facial recognition on the OCC campus.
The Associate Deans of Student Service representing all five of the school’s campuses stated in a written ‘reminder’ to the organizers upon canceling the event that “(t)he College does not presently utilize facial recognition technology,” noting, however, that, “(i)f at some time in the future, we were to acquire this software (facial recognition), the college would adopt and establish appropriate and legal guidelines for its use.”
UCLA’s Beck’s decision came on the heels of concerns raised by UCLA students and some faculty over the school’s proposed use of facial recognition technology on campus through campus-wide CCTV cameras, according to the school’s student newspaper, the Daily Bruin. The university’s proposal for using the technology largely centered on the security benefits it could provide. UCLA has been mum on what specific factors went into the decision to nix the use of facial biometrics.
Fight for the Future and its allied group, Students for a Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), have been pressuring hundreds of universities, colleges, and other schools to publicly acknowledge their plans for deploying facial recognition systems on their campuses, and to put an end to the use of the technology by virtually any institutions of higher learning, despite the purported of security benefits. Digital, privacy and civil rights groups have launched an all-out effort to ban the technology at schools.
More than 50 schools have said publicly that they have no plans to incorporate the technology on their campuses.
In an email to the OCC campus organizers’ event against facial recognition, the school’s associate deans of students stated: “Student Government (and all recognized organizations) will not be considering this subject further,” adding any “future [student group] meeting agendas (and all recognized student organization agendas) will be rejected if this item is included.”
Fight for the Future, SSDP, and ACLU of Michigan responded to OCC administrators by warning them in a letter that they possibly may have violated the student’s First Amendment rights, and implied that a lawsuit might be filed on constitutional freedom of expression grounds.
OCC administrators eventually said they would permit the facial recognition information event, but that it would not be allowed to be sponsored by SSDP, thereby eliminating school funding support. Additionally, OCC would continue to not recognize any student government body resolutions, agendas, etc., that call for an outright ban on the use of facial recognition on any of the colleges’ campuses.
In response, the organizers said in a statement that “(a)ny decision that infringes on the civil rights of students and the college community should be made with community input, especially decisions that sanction the use of racially discriminatory technologies such as facial recognition.”
“When a governmental actor says ‘just trust us’ and attempts to shut down dialogue is exactly when we should be the most suspicious,” ACLU of Michigan senior staff attorney Philip Mayor said in a statement to Motherboard. “Setting aside what is legal or not, the students at OCC certainly have quite a lot of thoughts about what is ‘appropriate’ for OCC to do with facial recognition technology – and OCC should not be afraid to hear those student voices.”
SSDP organizer Sarah Noon repeated claims to Motherboard in a statement that facial recognition is prone to false positives when matching peope of color, and said that constant surveillance on campus is inherently invasive.
“These types of student activities and conversations are protected by the First Amendment, and we will not allow administrations to bully or suppress civil discourse,” writes the SSDP in a blog post. The organization is continuing to follow through with their protest by holding a Ban Facial Recognition on Campus Day of Action on March 2 at which time the group says it will present to OCC administrators an open letter from student organizations.