Prof. Bernadette Brooten (NEJS) joined more than 150 other academics in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to sign a letter opposing the use of facial recognition on college campuses. The letter, published on Feb. 28, was written in conjunction with Fight for the Future. The letter states that “the constant surveillance of facial recognition threatens our human rights and privacy” and that “facial recognition is invasive, enabling anyone with access to the system to watch students’ movements, try to analyze facial expressions, monitor who they talk to, what they do outside of class and every move they make.” Fight for the Future is a group that aims to “harness the power of the Internet to channel outrage into action, defending our most basic rights in the digital age,” according to their website.

In an email to the Justice on March 4, Brooten said that she signed the letter “mainly out of concern for darker skinned and immigrant communities” and that the software used for facial recognition can make errors, “especially with darker skinned people.” Researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology found “the systems falsely identified African-American and Asian faces 10 times to 100 times more than Caucasian faces.” Brooten also commented that this data could be used by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to target undocumented students. “Teaching people to be aware of their surroundings and to look for signs of potential violence, hateful or discriminatory acts, or other misconduct is a community-based approach that can be much more effective,” Brooten said.

Fight for the Future has compiled a list of universities indicating whether they will not use facial recognition, may use facial recognition or are currently using facial recognition. Brandeis University, Boston University, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, along with many other universities, have pledged not to use facial recognition on campuses according to

According to an article by the American Civil Liberties Union, video surveillance has not been proven effective, even with minor crimes. The ACLU also said that because technology has evolved so rapidly, there are very limited checks and balances on how video surveillance can be used. The article also said that the increase in use of video surveillance “has the potential [to] change the core experience of going out in public in America because of its chilling effect on citizens.”

The discussion about the use of facial recognition and video surveillance continues, however, as some universities are using student’s phones to track their location. A Washington Post article reported that at Syracuse University, students’ attendance is recorded through an app called SpotterEDU that immediately links to “Bluetooth Beacons” that connect to students’ phones and gives them points for attendance. Syracuse University is one of many universities that have started to track students’ location, along with Auburn University, Central Florida University and Indiana University, according to the Washington Post article.

While Brandeis University has pledged not to use facial recognition on campus, Brooten said that she signed the letter because she “desired to support students, faculty, and staff at other universities and colleges in their efforts to persuade their administrations.”