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UCLA Abandons Plans to Use Facial Recognition After Backlash“Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose.”Icon Sportswire / Contributor Ahead of a national day of action led by digital rights group Fight for the Future, UCLA has abandoned its plans to become the first university in the United States to adopt facial recognition technology. In a statement shared with Fight for the Future’s Deputy Director Evan Greer, UCLA’s Administrative Vice Chancellor Michael Beck said the university “determined that the potential benefits are limited and are vastly outweighed by the concerns of the campus community.” Since last year, UCLA has been considering using the university’s security cameras to implement a facial recognition surveillance system. These plans have been dogged by student criticism, culminating in an editorial in the Daily Bruin, UCLA’s student newspaper, that argued the system would “present a major breach of students’ privacy” while creating “a more hostile campus environment” by “collecting invasive amounts of data on [UCLA’s] population of over 45,000 students and 50,000 employees.” In an attempt to highlight the risks of using facial recognition on UCLA’s campus, Fight for the Future used Amazon’s facial recognition software, Rekognition, to scan public photos of UCLA’s athletes and faculty, then compare the photos to a mugshot database. Over 400 photos were scanned, 58 of which were false positives for mugshot images—the software often gave back matches with “100% confidence” for individuals “who had almost nothing in common beyond their race” These results square with what we have witnessed time and time again—that predictive algorithms are fundamentally riddled with racial and gender bias. Whether it’s the federal government’s own National Institute of Standards and Technology examining facial recognition algorithms, independent researchers looking at healthcare algorithms, or lawmakers raising the alarm about discrimination via housing algorithms, the outcomes are so bad that even members of Congress are proposing to ban the technology. “UCLA thought they could get away with this. They even claimed our campaign was misinformation. When we made it clear we weren’t going to back down, they folded like a tent,” Greer told Motherboard. “Let this be a lesson to other school administrators: if you try to experiment on your campus with racist, invasive surveillance technology, we will come for you. And we don’t lose.”Even The Government Admits Facial Recognition Is Racially BiasedA new federal study confirms the widely-adopted tech is fundamentally biased. It’s time to ban it.Robyn Beck / Getty Images A new federal study from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) confirms, again, that facial recognition technology is riddled with a fundamental racial bias. Using nearly 200 facial recognition algorithms developed by 99 corporations on 18 million images from federal databases, the algorithms’ accuracy was found to vary wildly among different racial, ethnic, gender, and age groups. Native Americans, Blacks, and Asians had some of the highest false match rates; for mugshots, Blacks and Asians were misidentified at rates ranging from ten to 100 times more than Caucasians. Women, in general, had higher false match rates than men, with Native American women misidentified as high as 68 times more than white men. “This study makes it clear: the government needs to stop using facial recognition surveillance right now. This technology has serious flaws that pose an immediate threat to civil liberties, public safety, and basic human rights,” said Fight for the Future, a privacy rights group. “Even if the algorithms improve in the future, biometric surveillance like face recognition is dangerous and invasive. Lawmakers everywhere should take action to ban the use of this nuclear-grade surveillance tech.” For years, facial recognition has been part of the drive to integrate artificial intelligence systems into everything from public housing to healthcare, despite constant warnings about inherent bias against black and brown people and subsequent abuse by corporations, police departments, federal agencies, and everything in between—all in the name of “improving” the technology instead of simply banning it. According to facial recognition researchers, the U.S. government, along with researchers and corporations, regularly and non-consensually use the images of immigrants, abused children, and dead people to test their facial recognition programs. In October, contractors working for Google were caught training its facial recognition systems using “dubious tactics” that targeted “darker skin people”—including deceiving homeless people into letting their faces be scanned and then lying to them about it. “Even government scientists are now confirming that this surveillance technology is flawed and biased. One false match can lead to missed flights, lengthy interrogations, watchlist placements, tense police encounters, false arrests, or worse. But the technology’s flaws are only one concern,” ACLU Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley told Motherboard. “Face recognition technology—accurate or not—can enable undetectable, persistent, and suspicionless surveillance on an unprecedented scale. Government agencies, including the FBI, CBP and local law enforcement, must immediately halt the deployment of this dystopian technology.”This College Banned Students From Even Discussing Facial RecognitionAfter the ACLU said a community college in Michigan was violating its students’ First Amendment rights, the school partially relented. Amidst a growing nationwide resistance to facial recognition on college campuses, school administrators at Michigan’s Oakland Community College (OCC) are blocking students’ organizing efforts to prevent the technology from being adopted. Last week, the school’s administrators canceled a forum event where the ACLU of Michigan and Detroit Justice Coalition were scheduled to speak on the subject. OCC’s administrators have also blocked attempts by the student government to pass non-binding resolutions that would ban the use of facial recognition on campus. “The College does not presently utilize facial recognition technology,” the Associate Deans of Student Service wrote in a “reminder” to the organizers after canceling their forum event. “If, 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.” In an email to campus organizers, the school’s associate deans also emphasized that “Student Government (and all Recognized Organizations) will not be considering this subject further.” The statement goes on to say that “future [student group] meeting agendas (and all Recognized Student Organization agendas) will be rejected if this item is included.” In response to administrators canceling the forum event, which was to be sponsored by Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), digital rights group Fight for the Future and the ACLU of Michigan sent letters to the college warning that they may have violated the student’s First Amendment rights and were at risk of a lawsuit. Once outrage from students and forum participants boiled over, administrators partially relented: they would permit the Facial Recognition Software event, but it could no longer be sponsored by SSDP, and thus would not receive school funding. As for any student government resolutions and agendas seeking to ban facial recognition, they would still be ignored. None of this has provided any comfort for the forum’s participants or organizers. “Any 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,” the student group told Motherboard in a statement. “The administration’s decision to censor our resolution and request to hold a forum isn’t just disappointing; it’s a threat to our privacy, security, and first amendment right to free speech.” Philip Mayor, senior staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, echoed concerns about OCC’s statement leaving the door open for future 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,” Mayor told 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.” For the past few months, Fight for the Future, a digital rights organization, has helped spearhead a nationwide campaign to keep facial recognition surveillance off college campuses. Along with a network of activists across the country, they have been raising awareness about the technology’s potential for privacy abuses and its fundamental racial biases—which have been acknowledged even by the federal government. “Facial Recognition software is notorious for having false positives that ultimately target and discriminate against communities of color,” Sarah Noon, an SSDP organizer told Motherboard in a statement. “The idea of constant surveillance of students on any campus is inherently invasive.” Dozens of national civil liberty organizations have also called for administrators to ban the technology on the grounds that it would reduce the safety of students of color, expose biometric data to potential hackers, and create an environment undermining academic freedom and personal expression. Just last week, the Senate introduced legislation to place a moratorium not only on federal use of facial recognition but the use of federal funds at the state or local level for the technology as well. “The only appropriate guidelines for the use of facial recognition is to not use it,” Evan Greer, Deputy Director of Fight for the Future, told Motherboard. “It’s also a bit of a joke that they’d develop legal guidelines since right now there are almost no laws governing the use of facial recognition. They could use it in all kinds of grotesque and violating ways and it would be perfectly legal. That’s why our campaign is asking college administrations to listen to the growing consensus among security and human rights experts and make a clear commitment to not use this type of surveillance technology on campus.”