The Man’s still watching college kids, now with biometric surveillance — report

Categories Biometrics News  |  Schools  |  Surveillance

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U.S. college and university campuses are as interested in biometric surveillance as any other public and private organization, according to a report compiled by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

According to the foundation, more than 200 universities in 37 states have purchased 250 surveillance tools for use on campuses.

Networks of ordinary video cameras are most common, but administrators are now investing in biometric scanners, drones, body cameras, license readers, as well as software for analyzing video and monitoring social media. Gunshot detection was also included, but that technology does not pose the same civil rights puzzles as the other tools.

The schools report is part of the foundation’s Atlas of Surveillance database tracking the deployment of surveillance technologies by U.S. law enforcement bodies. But the primary researcher was a student at the University of Nevada’s Reno Reynolds School of Journalism. Other students in Reno Reynolds and volunteers helped, according to the foundation.

In describing what each category of surveillance technology, the report’s authors note that some, such as license readers and social media monitoring apps, can have dual uses.

License readers, obviously, generate revenue through school parking departments by charging drivers who overstay the time they have purchased. And while campuses can and do restrict the readers to just that role, it is a simple matter to turn them into industrial-scale data collectors.

Marketing staff use social media monitors to raise the positive profile of schools. Increasingly, they are used to warn of potential trouble or violence. The foundation says it found 21 schools using the monitors as early warning tactics to prevent violence.

But, here, too, just the possibility that administrators or law enforcement agents could use monitors as a digital dragnet has the foundation and others concerned.

The same is true with drones, which can be used for many projects and missions that do not necessarily threaten civil liberties. Yet police working for the University of North Dakota, according to the report, have been allowed since 2018 to carry drones while on patrol at their discretion.

All of the technologies ultimately are held to that same measure in the report. The report recalls the long history domestically and overseas of governments spying on student and faculty activists.

Some of the systems described in the report without a doubt can raise concern in a reasonable person.

The University of California, Hastings School of law and UC, San Francisco have considered putting Knightscope surveillance robots on patrol as recently as last year. One option would include license and biometric facial scanning as well as noting individual cell phones nearby.

Three school police departments in Maryland have created a database of residents’ and businesses’ video cameras. They are asked to tell the police where the cameras are so that “police can access or request footage during investigations.”

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