Students Organize to Keep Facial Recognition off Campus

Fight for the Future
Mar 3 · 5 min read

Across the country today, students, alums, and faculty took action to defend their campuses from the aggressive marketing onslaught of facial recognition companies.

Their message was simple, and backed by 150+ faculty and 40+ civil society groups like the ACLU, FreedomWorks, and Color of Change: facial recognition on campus makes everyone less safe. It should be banned.

Here are our top five favorite moments from this national day of action.

1. Oakland Community College’s Panel Changed Minds

Oakland Community College’s Students for Sensible Drug Policy chapter organized a panel ahead of the action day, because their spring break is this week. Lawyers from the ACLU of Michigan and Detroit Justice Center spoke for over an hour on the wide impact facial recognition might have on the educational environment.

Panel speakers and Sarah Noon at Oakland Community College in Michigan

Sarah Noon, the organizer of the panel who is set to graduate this spring, said that the words of the panelists changed people’s minds, “even the administration.”

Sarah’s panel happened only because of her own bravery, and with help from the ACLU of Michigan, the Detroit Justice Center, and Fight for the Future. Her campus sought to violate the first amendment rights of her organization by cancelling this panel without cause, and denying their student government a symbolic vote on the issue of facial recognition. Students fought back with the support of FFTF and the ACLU of Michigan, and the school made a 180––a big win for free speech AND the fight against facial recognition.

2. Students painted their faces and wore masks to gather petition signatures at Kent State University and University of North Georgia Oconee

Students at Kent State University and University of North Georgia Oconee tabled all day to collect petition signatures and raise awareness on the issue. They wore masks, painted faces, and showed that resisting the erosion of our civil liberties can also be fun.

Students painting their faces in ways that would fool facial recognition algorithms at Kent State University

Reuben Francis (he/him), a student at Kent State, said “I participated today because facial recognition technology poses a grave threat to our future. If utilized as a tool of oppression, it has the potential to suppress all dissent and enable the automated monitoring of the entire population. That’s why I believe we need to take action to nip this problem in the bud before this kind of technology becomes unstoppable.”

They likely got the idea from Dekaylee and Rachel, these rad drag artists who made a video promoting the day of action with “instructions” for doing wild makeup looks that fool facial recognition.

Students tabling at Kent State University

Brooke Trogdon (they/them), a student at University of North Georgia Oconee, said “I believe that facial recognition should be banned from campus because not only is facial recognition a violation of privacy, but it perpetuates marginalization of people who have already been put at risk by the prison industrial complex. Tl;dr: Facial recognition creates more fear and less safety than it protects.”

Drew Warren (he/him), another student at University of North Georgia Oconee, said “I think this issue is important because for many people it seems like the elimination of our privacy is inevitable. However, we used to think that the use of lead paint would be inevitable until our government finally eliminated its use. If we can place bans on dangerous materials and weapons, we can demand the banning of technology that infringes on basic rights such as privacy.”

Brooke Trogdon and a friend pose with banner on the campus of a rainy University of North Georgia Oconee

3. Dominique Coronel, a student at DePaul University, and a first generation Mexican-American college student, delivered letters in solidarity with the most vulnerable in society.

Dominique Coronel after delivering open letters in support of a facial recognition ban.

“As a first generation Mexican-American college student, I am disturbed by ICE’s mass deportations and imprisonment of refugees and migrants. Now that we know they are likely using facial recognition, I’m even more compelled to participate in campaigns to ban the technology from campuses. Education should be a safe place, but this technology hurts the most vulnerable people in society. Young people understand that, and we know that its spread must be stopped to prevent a dystopian future,” Dominique Coronel (he/him) said.

4. Students at Yale rally and present a letter to the president, plan to push for city-wide ban in New Haven

Sean O’Brien with students and colleagues outside the president’s office at Yale.

Students, faculty, and members of the Yale Privacy Lab gathered and presented a letter to the administration. They also announced plans to organize for a ban facial recognition on a city-wide level in New Haven.

5. The Boston Teachers Union comes out swinging against face surveillance in schools

Boston Teachers Union represents more than 10,000 teachers in the Boston area. They tweeted their support for the day of action, the first public statement from a teachers union (that we know of) opposing facial recognition surveillance in schools. That’s a big deal!

6. “Oberlin College does not currently use nor is it currently considering the use of facial recognition systems.”

In response to the letter delivery at Oberlin, an alumna received an email stating that the campus has no plans to use the technology, joining over 60 other campuses like Harvard, MIT, and UCLA.

Our scorecard is working, and over 500 emails have been sent to administrators at campuses that are or may be planning to use facial recognition across the country on the action day alone.

Image of the scorecard from BanFacialRecognition.com/campus

Letters have also been delivered to American University, University of Georgia, University of Oregon, and Western Kentucky University, with more action days planned once students finish their finals and return from spring break.

Fight for the Future

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We believe there's hardly anything as important as ensuring that our shared future has freedom of expression and creativity at its core.

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