Students accuse the University of Miami of using facial recognition to identify student protesters. The university denies it.

Last month, Esteban Wood and eight other University of Miami students received a disturbing email. The post only contained a Zoom link and a one-sentence explanation: Dean of Students Ryan Holmes wanted to discuss “the incident that happened on September 4, 2020 at the Whitten University Center.”

Wood and the others participated in a peaceful protest that day against the plan to reopen the university, but no one knew why Holmes wanted to speak to them. The message was vague, but what was even more confusing was the choice of recipients. None of the students organized the protest. Three were student journalists who covered the protest. And only two were from a student activist group, the UMiami Employee Student Alliance, which participated.

“We thought about it, how did they choose these nine students?” Wood, a UMESA member who received the email, said Forbes.

The University of Miami said in a statement that it “does not use facial recognition technology” – but students and digital rights nonprofit Fight For the Future are not so sure . They quote the campus police chief resume, which says the university has an extensive camera system that uses “sophisticated algorithms” for “motion detection, facial recognition, object detection and more.” They also point out a interview with a student magazine earlier this month in which Chief David Rivero said his department used facial recognition software from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to catch a burglar at a fraternity house.

“It does appear that the University of Miami is using facial recognition to target and intimidate students who exercise their First Amendment rights,” Lia Holland, organizer of Fight For the Future, said in a news outlet. Publish. “If not, they need to tell their police chief to stop pretending to use this technology and completely ban facial recognition from their campus.”

In an interview with Forbes, Rivero said he was “misleading” on his CV and has since corrected it. He said he lists possible uses for the university’s security camera system, but lacks facial recognition capabilities or a database of photos to compare video footage to, despite the reference on his CV.

“For cameras to use facial recognition, they need to be positioned at the right angle. Our cameras are above the buildings and in the hallways, ”he said. “They are not positioned to maximize facial recognition.”

Rivero said students emailed by the dean about the protest were identified using video footage and “basic investigative techniques,” which he declined to detail.

Anh Nguyen, assistant professor of computer science at Auburn University, said Forbes that even if the cameras were from the “wrong” angles, that does not in itself preclude the possibility of using facial recognition.

Rivero added that campus police have previously submitted requests to use software from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, but this system only compares campus surveillance footage to a database of photos. of arrests.

“Why should I go to FDLE if we had facial recognition?” Rivero said.

Rivero said he doesn’t believe in facial recognition technology. The University of Miami has already tested facial recognition software, he said, but decided not to go ahead with it.

“I know facial recognition isn’t working, so why would I spend the money to connect a system to my cameras that isn’t working?” he said.

During the meeting with the student protesters, Dean of Students Ryan Holmes admitted to asking campus police to compile a list of students who attended the protest. He Told student newspaper Miami hurricane the meeting was only intended to be an “after-the-fact educational conversation” about appropriate event registration. The protest technically violated the university guidelines because the organizers have not officially reserved space for the event through the office of the Dean of Students.

None of the students involved were disciplined, but Wood said he still believed his privacy had been violated.

“Students are very scared of being called the deans of students and being discussed, taught and feeling like they’re another member of the community,” said Wood. “Being called like that has bad effects.”

Much of the attention surrounding facial recognition has focused on public entities, such as law enforcement. San Francisco, Oakland and Boston have banned city agencies and police departments from using this technology. Portland went further and banned the use of businesses in public spaces. Microsoft

and IBM

mentionned they would no longer sell its technology to the police. Congress is bending regulations for the federal government.

The extent to which private companies and universities, which are not subject to public records laws, use facial recognition is no longer a mystery.

the University of Southern California is one of the only schools to openly recognize the use of facial recognition, which is deployed to prevent intruders from entering dormitories. But the lion’s share of large institutions – over 60, including MIT, Harvard, UCLA and Vanderbilt –promised not to use technology, according to Fight For the Future. Some campuses, including the University of Minnesota and Southern Methodist University, have trial accounts with controversial facial recognition startup Clearview AI, BuzzFeed News reported, but did not get full contracts.

Colleges say facial recognition can be used to stop school shootings, catch criminals, or provide amenities, such as scanning your face to enter dorms or pay for food. But critics argue that the technology is not reliable enough, especially because studies show that algorithms have a harder time identifying people with darker skin. But even if it were 100% accurate, the potential for abuse is too high, said Caitlin Seeley George, director of the Fight For the Future campaign, in the absence of a federal policy governing the use of facial recognition.

“That’s part of the problem with this technology,” she said. “You can say you use it for one thing, but once it’s implemented and once it’s standardized, it can be used for a much wider range of reasons of concern.”

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