The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the first university in the United States to openly propose using facial recognition cameras, has now decided to back down on that plan due to backlash from student community.
“UCLA will not pursue the use of this technology,” UCLA Executive Vice President Michael Beck wrote in a statement released to CNet. “We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and vastly outweighed by the concerns of our campus community.”
UCLA officials expressed interest in facial recognition technology last year, according to student newspaper the Daily Burin. Beck said at a panel discussion with students and police officers that facial recognition software might be added to the existing security system. If implemented, the software would be used as an extra layer of authentication for restricted areas on campus, and for identifying anyone flagged with a “stay-away order,” such as as students’ domestic abusers who are banned from entering the school grounds.
In one draft of the proposed security camera policy shared online, the UCLA said it would consider using facial recognition in a “limited” capacity. The match would be examined by a human before any official determination of someone’s identity could be made.
However, the planned implementation of the facial recognition software raised privacy concerns, prompting UCLA students to voice their opposition at a town hall meeting in late January. The editorial board at the Daily Bruin compared the program with “telescreens” from George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984” while some students teamed up with civil liberty advocacy group Fight For the Future to plan a protest in March. Illegal immigrant students also feared the biometric data used in facial recognition systems might one day be acquired by immigration agents to use against them and their families.
Evan Greer, Fight for the Future’s deputy director, said in a Feb. 20 statement that they “will not stop organizing activities until facial recognition is banned on every campus,” encouraging other universities to heed UCLA’s decision.
Several universities in the state of California have utilized facial recognition technology for campus security and other purposes. At the University of Southern California, students have to scan their faces to enter their dorms. Stanford University briefly introduced a facial recognition system for one of its food vendors, allowing customers to quickly re-order previous meals. The University of San Francisco, a private Jesuit institution, installed facial recognition cameras at the entrances of residence halls, but discontinued that practice in 2016.