A new study by the Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program (STPP) at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan argues that schools should ban the use of facial recognition technology, citing limited efficacy and other issues.

The study comes at a time when schools are deciding whether to reopen or remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic. For schools choosing to reopen, many are deploying new technologies to allow for hybrid learning and to maintain social distancing to stop the spread of COVID-19. Administrators and teachers are having to decide which technologies “will best serve public health, educational, and privacy requirements.”

University of Michigan researchers, led by STPP Director Shobita Parthasarathy, expressed concern about the use of facial recognition technologies, which can be used to monitor student attendance and behavior, as well as to conduct contact tracing. The report argues that this technology will “exacerbate racism,” and researchers called this “an issue of particular concern” as the United States “confronts structural inequality and discrimination.”

Before COVID-19, the study says that the deployment of facial recognition in schools was “seen as a potential panacea to assist with security measures in the aftermath of school shootings.” It also notes schools have already begun using it to track students and automate attendance records.

Hover, the study argues that “not only is the technology not suited to security purposes, but it also creates a web of serious problems beyond racial discrimination, including normalizing surveillance and eroding privacy, institutionalizing inaccuracy and creating false data on school life, commodifying data, and marginalizing non-conforming students.”

“We have focused on facial recognition in schools because it is not yet widespread and because it will impact particularly vulnerable populations,” Parthasarathy said. “The research shows that prematurely deploying the technology without understanding its implications would be unethical and dangerous.”

To conduct their study, STPP used an analogical case comparison method, looking specifically at previous uses of security technology like CCTV cameras and metal detectors, as well as biometric technologies, to anticipate the implications of facial recognition.

The study drilled down on the importance of regulation, explaining that there are currently no national laws regulating facial recognition technology.

“Some people say, ‘We can’t regulate a technology until we see what it can do. But looking at technology that has already been implemented we can predict the potential social, economic, and political impacts and surface the unintended consequences,” said Molly Kleinman, STPP program manager.

While the study recommends a total ban on the technology, it also offers a set of 15 policy recommendations for those at the national, state and school district levels who may be considering using FR, as well as a set of sample questions for stakeholders – like parents and students – to consider as they evaluate its use.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs