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New Scorecard Shows Which Colleges are Using Facial Recognition, and Which Say They Won’t.

Fight for the Future & Students for Sensible Drug Policy launched a scorecard that shows whether universities have clarified their plans to use biometric surveillance that will destroy student privacy, campus safety, and academic liberty.

WASHINGTON - In response to Fight for the Future & Students for Sensible Drug Policy’s nationwide campaign to ban facial recognition from university campuses, dozens of institutions of higher learning have responded to clarify whether or not they use, or plan to use this technology that threatens the liberty of their students and staff.

See the scorecard here: https://www.banfacialrecognition.com/campus 

A new scorecard provides information about facial recognition use for nearly 100 top university campuses in the United States—whether they currently use facial recognition, don’t use (and don’t plan to use), or refused to say. 45 schools have given statements clarifying that they are not using and have no plans to use. More than 30 schools have not responded or refused to comment, and two campuses have been reported by CNET to be actively using facial recognition—Stanford, and the University of Southern California. Both did not return requests for clarification, though we have heard from reporters that Stanford claims they are no longer using the tech on campus. A facial recognition vendor claims that small number of colleges have restaurants on campus with facial recognition payment options. At least some of those schools say they no longer use the system, and we were not able to verify that others were actually on the campuses they claimed to be on. 

Additionally, three schools issued ominously vague statements that implied they may have plans to use facial recognition in the future. George Washington University’s assistant director of media relations Crystal L Nosal stated that they are not currently using facial recognition technology, but also said “there is no way to predict the future and it would be disingenuous to give a position on something other than what we are doing right now.” Duke University’s executive director of news and communications Keith Lawrence, when asked about future plans to install facial recognition technology, declined to “comment further.” An American University spokesperson refused to give any information about the institution’s plans, providing the following statement: “As a private university, AU reserves the right to implement security measures to mitigate risk and protect our community from threats to their safety and security. To that end, security enhancements are undertaken only after a thorough review to ensure they meet the standards of general community acceptance which balance security with expectations of privacy.”

Campuses that have stated they have no intention of using 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. University of San Francisco clarified that it abandoned its controversial facial recognition program in 2016. Activists made multiple attempts to contact every institution on the scorecard. More than 30 schools did not respond after multiple attempts, including Harvard, Yale, Oberlin, Howard University, Ohio State, Reed, Sarah Lawrence College, and UCLA.

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“As this campaign continues, we’re ready to up the pressure on campuses that haven’t shared their facial recognition policies,” said Erica Darragh, board member at Students for Sensible Drug Policy (pronouns: she/her). “Students deserve to know whether they are being experimented on with what was characterized as ‘Black Mirror-like technology’” (language used by Representative Ocasio-Cortez in a house oversight hearing this month). “The idea that your campus could spy on you, that this technology could automate racial prejudice, and that the whole system could be exposed so all your inalterable personal details are stolen lead us to conclude that the technology is a huge threat to students and to society. If a university’s facial recognition system gets hacked, students can’t just change our faces and our lives like a credit card number.”

Thousands of students, faculty, alumni, and community members are signing petitions on the campaign homepage, calling for a complete ban on the non-personal use of facial recognition on their campus. Student groups across the country are circulating an open letter demanding that facial recognition be banned from their campuses, and organizing to introduce student government resolutions using a toolkit created by Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

“College students should not be used as lab rats. Everyone, including faculty, staff, and community members have a right to know if administrations are using or planning to experiment with dangerous facial recognition technology on campus,” said Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future (pronouns: she/her). “Whether it’s used for Big Brother style monitoring of student behavior or for more mundane purposes like accessing meal plans or dorms, biometric surveillance technology on campus puts students’ physical safety at risk and violates their most basic rights. This technology is unsafe, discriminatory, and politically toxic. We are known for our ruthless campaigning. There’s nowhere to hide. College administrators need to get on the right side of history by committing to not use facial recognition on campus –– or prepare for battle.”

While there have been several reports indicating that elementary and grade schools are experimenting with facial recognition, the technology is not widely used at US colleges and universities. This campaign aims to ensure it stays that way. 

This effort is part of Fight for the Future’s broader BanFacialRecognition.com campaign, which has been endorsed by more than 30 major grassroots civil rights organizations including Greenpeace, Color of Change, Daily Kos, United We Dream, Council on American Islamic Relations, MoveOn, and Free Press. The groups are calling for local, state, and federal lawmakers to ban government and law enforcement use of facial recognition. Several cities have already banned the controversial technology outright, including San FranciscoSomerville, MA, Berkeley, CA, and Oakland, CA, and there is growing bipartisan support in Congress to address the issue at the federal level.

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