20+ human rights organizations call on University of Miami to ban facial recognition and meet student demands

Students and leading national organizations are calling for a ban on a controversial technology that the Dean of Students said was used to identify peaceful student protesters.

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Image of UMiami Student Protest via @UMESAMiami

On the heels of the University of Miami’s conflicting answers as to whether they used facial recognition on students protesting for better COVID-19 protection for contract employees, 20+ civil liberties and human rights organizations have signed an open letter to the administration and the Board of Trustees. The letter supports student demands for a ban on facial recognition, and meetings to address surveillance on campus as well as COVID-19 safety concerns.

Many of the organizations signed on represent diverse groups who are harmed by invasive, racially biased facial recognition, including Color of Change, Mijente, Mpower Change, and United We Dream, as well as Miami Law’s own SWANALSA — South/West Asian & North African Law Students Association.

Also represented are leading digital and human rights groups including ACLU of Florida, MediaJustice, Demand Progress, Algorithmic Justice League, The Center for Human Rights and Privacy, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and Fight for the Future, as well as Miami Law ACLU and National Lawyers Guild Miami Law Chapter.

“UMiami is struggling to answer to their creepy surveillance practices, and clarify whether they are using their own facial recognition system, or Florida’s state facial recognition database,” said Lia Holland (she/her) an activist at Fight for the Future who is supporting students. “Their path forward is obvious. Their own chief of campus police told Forbes that facial recognition doesn’t work. They need to ban facial recognition immediately with a clearly stated policy, and meet with students.”

According to the scorecard at BanFacialRecognition.com/Campus, any use of Facial Recognition by the University of Miami would be a move against the tide. Over 60 campuses in the US, from Harvard to MIT, have stated that they do not plan to use facial recognition, technology that has been widely condemned by experts as invasive, ineffective, and plagued by systemic racial and gender bias. After community outcry over a proposed facial recognition surveillance program this spring, UCLA committed to banning facial recognition from their campus.

Students with the UMiami Employee Student Alliance (UMESA), members of which participated and were called to the meeting for the protest in question, are available for interviews via lia@fightforthefuture.org. Fight for the Future is also available to comment.

The letter reads as follows, with a complete list of signatories below:

To the University of Miami School Administrators:

On behalf of leading consumer, privacy, student, and civil liberties organizations, we are calling on your administration to honor the following demands of students at the University of Miami:

#1: Issue a campus-wide policy banning non-personal use of facial recognition technology, and issue a statement that you have done so.

#2: Immediately schedule an open forum with students and faculty/staff to discuss community concerns and clarify how student activists who participated in First Amendment protected protest activities were identified by campus police.

#3: Immediately schedule a meeting with the UMiami Employee Student Alliance (UMESA) to address their COVID-19 safety concerns, the subject of the original protest.

Facial recognition technology is invasive and ineffective. It’s biased and is more likely to misidentify students of color, female students, and transgender/non-binary students, which can result in traumatic interactions with law enforcement, loss of class time, disciplinary action, and potentially a criminal record. The data collected is vulnerable to hackers, and we’ve seen that schools are ill-equipped to safeguard this data. In the wrong hands, these systems, and the data they generate could be used to target and harm students. Also, facial recognition is invasive, enabling anyone with access to the system to watch students’ movements and analyze facial expressions, as well as monitor who they talk to, what they do outside of class, and every move they make.

Invasive surveillance technology poses a profound threat to academic freedom. Exposing students and educators to facial recognition aggressively limits their ability to study, research, and express freely without fear of official retaliation. Students should not have to trade their right to privacy for an education.

More than 60 prominent institutions, including MIT, Harvard, Brown, Columbia, and Florida State University, have issued statements clarifying that they are not currently using facial recognition and have no plans to do so in the future. Due to the lack of clarity on University of Miami’s policy in the press, an outright ban of the technology for nonpersonal use is necessary — so that students, faculty, and staff can be certain they are not being subjected to technology your own chief of police has said “doesn’t work”.

Additionally, we would like to express our deep concern around the lack of clarity around the university’s surveillance policies and procedures — as well as potential suppression of student’s first amendment rights on campus. The surveillance program that includes 1,338 cameras at UMiami is Orwellian at best, and creates an environment incompatible with an institution that values academic freedom and the rights of students, faculty, and staff alike.

Sincerely, the undersigned.

ACLU of Florida

Algorithmic Justice League

Center for Human Rights and Privacy

Color Of Change

Defending Rights & Dissent

Demand Progress

Detroit Community Technology Project

Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC)

Fight for the Future

J Street U Miami

Lucy Parsons Labs

MediaJustice

Miami Law ACLU

Mijente

MPower Change

National Lawyers Guild Miami Law Chapter

Oakland Privacy

Open MIC (Open Media & Information Companies Initiative)

RootsAction.org

S.T.O.P. — Surveillance Technology Oversight Project

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

SWANALSA — South/West Asian & North African Law Students Association (Miami Law Chapter)

United We Dream

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