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UCLA cancels on-campus facial recognition program after backlash

The university had planned to scan faces for people banned from campus.

UCLA will prohibit the use of facial recognition on campus, an administrator said Wednesday. The university's prior plan to use the technology faced backlash.
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UCLA will not go forward with a facial recognition program, and will prohibit the technology's use on campus, a university administrator said Wednesday. The move comes after backlash from student groups and privacy advocates, who are pushing for campuses across the country to bar facial recognition.

"UCLA will not pursue the use of this technology," said UCLA administrative vice chancellor Michael Beck, said in a statement. "We have determined that the potential benefits are limited and vastly outweighed by the concerns of our campus community."

The program would have used facial recognition to raise an alert if people who were banned from campus entered the premises, and to offer an extra level of authentication in restricted areas of the university, a university spokesperson said. The editorial board at the Daily Bruin student newspaper decried the program, and advocacy group Fight For the Future pointed to the university's plan as an example of how the technology could become pervasive on college campuses. Rights groups added their support for the students' demands in a letter Thursday.

Fight for the Future said it had been in the process of testing Amazon's Rekognition algorithm on UCLA athletes and faculty, and found that it incorrectly matched the faces of black people to other people's mug shots. The findings echoed broader concerns that facial recognition has higher error rates for black people and women. Advocates say facial recognition is even more worrying when it works properly, creating an inescapable and pervasive surveillance tool. This has led to concerns over the technology's use at airports, in retail and by law enforcement.

On Wednesday, Fight for the Future deputy director Evan Greer said in a statement other universities should take heed of UCLA's decision. "We won't stop organizing until facial recognition is banned on every campus," she said. Student activists are planning a day of action at college campuses around the country in March.

The UCLA spokesperson said that while the school's current policy doesn't mention facial recognition, it'll be updated to specifically prohibit the technology on campus.

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