This morning, Fight For the Future, a nonprofit advocacy advocacy advocate for privacy, censorship, and copyright issues, released a letter calling for a ban on facial recognition in U.S. schools that affects parents in 50 states in have received 1,000 signatures less than a year a week. The open letter, addressed to lawmakers and school administrators across the country, highlights the dangers of surveillance and the risks associated with data compromises, as well as the ways in which facial recognition can exacerbate discrimination against certain students.
The Fight For the Future campaign comes as more schools are considering using facial recognition technology to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Fayette County̵
Elementary and high school students aren’t the only ones undergoing facial recognition. The University of Texas teamed up with startup Clear to bring scanning to their soccer stadium after the University of California Los Angeles suggested using facial recognition for security surveillance on campus. USC Annenberg requires students in some dorms to use facial recognition to gain access to their rooms. In New York, Molloy College is reportedly using kiosks with thermal and facial recognition capabilities to authenticate students’ identities and track their health.
Countless studies have shown that face recognition is prone to distortion. In a University of Colorado article last fall, Boulder researchers showed that AI from Amazon, Clarifai, Microsoft, and others, 38% of the time, had accuracy rates of over 95% for cisgender men and women, but misidentified trans men as women maintained. Independent benchmarks of major vendor systems by the Gender Shades Project and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) suggest that facial recognition technology has racial and gender bias, and facial recognition programs can be extremely inaccurate and people wrong more than 96% of the time classify.
Experts argue that facial recognition in schools could pick up and exacerbate existing prejudices, leading to increased surveillance and humiliation of black and Latin American students. In addition, they could make surveillance a part of everyday life and lay the groundwork for it to be extended to other uses.
“The momentum is growing to ban facial recognition once and for all, but we know companies target schools specifically, so we need to ban it now,” said Caitlin Seeley George, campaign director for Fight for the Future, in a statement. “These tech companies care more about making money than how much their product will harm children. We’ve already seen how facial recognition put adults at risk. We cannot allow this to happen to our children. “
A recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan found that facial recognition technology has limited effectiveness in schools and poses a number of potential privacy issues. For example, the co-authors write that facial recognition would encourage new codes for clothing and appearance, and penalize students who fail to meet these restrictions, creating problems for schools that rely on the technology for attending, selling lunch, and other daily activities leave. They also claim that facial recognition is creating new types of data that are being bought by private companies, making it impossible for students to provide full and informed consent to data collection or control.
A report released this month by the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project stated that any technology deployed during pandemic schools reopening, potential data hacking and other unforeseen data uses, as well as students’ right to privacy from administrators, police and even their parents should consider. “In addition to the well-documented racial and gender biases, many facial recognition systems for children and adolescents have proven to be less accurate,” the report said. “Similarly, large area thermal scanning suffers from severe limitations in terms of reliability and potential preload. Taking temperature readings remotely to diagnose the presence of fever, let alone COVID-19, has not been proven accurate, and error rates can vary by race and gender. “
The message seems to resonate with some lawmakers, if only at the state level. In July, New York passed a moratorium on the use of facial recognition and other forms of biometric identification in schools through 2022. The bill, a response to the introduction of a facial recognition system by the Lockport City school district, was among the first in the nation to do so did expressly regulate or prohibit the use of the technology in schools.