Schools must abandon—not double down—on facial recognition

By John S. Cusick and Clarence Okoh 4 minute Learn

With the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions and the top of summer time shortly approaching, colleges are getting ready to welcome college students again into their school rooms for in-person studying. With that transition comes the return of a troubling development in schooling—the monitoring of scholars by way of facial recognition techniques, in addition to the consideration of utilizing the know-how to implement present faculty self-discipline insurance policies.

The variety of colleges deploying these instruments threatens to develop within the fall as many consider using federal COVID-19 relief funds to buy facial recognition gear. The usage of this know-how disproportionately harms college students of shade and undermines colleges’ commitments to offering equitable and protected studying environments. Faculty districts must expel this flawed and biased know-how from our colleges, not double down on it.


Welcoming facial recognition into our youngsters’s school rooms creates conditions ripe for discrimination based mostly on flimsy science. Emerging research is clear that facial recognition know-how is inaccurate and reproduces age, race, and ethnicity biases. It additionally performs extra poorly on kids as in comparison with adults due, partly, to facial modifications that happen throughout adolescence. But firms proceed aggressively advertising facial recognition as an economical public security resolution with out disclosing these instruments’ inaccuracies and racial and gender biases.

Some firms are additionally pitching so-called have an effect on recognition in colleges, which makes use of facial recognition know-how to evaluate college students’ feelings. However have an effect on recognition is merely a digital repackaging of the debunked and discredited racial stereotypes underpinning physiognomy, phrenology, and different historic manifestations of “scientific racism.”

Have an effect on recognition know-how depends on the flawed premise that observable variations in bodily traits amongst people and teams will be measured, quantified, and interpreted in ways in which supply insights into an individual’s mind, morality, or trustworthiness. As such, have an effect on recognition falsely assigns scientific significance to racial variations in ways in which reproduce racial hierarchy and social inequality. An individual’s character, feelings, and “threat degree” can’t be discerned from their physique or face.

Technological flaws and limitations, nonetheless, aren’t the one concern. Facial recognition know-how represents an unprecedented enlargement of monitoring and surveillance. Fixed surveillance can enhance scholar anxiousness and stress, notably if captured knowledge is getting used for scholar evaluation, monitoring, and disciplinary choices.

Analysis in comparable contexts has revealed that closed-circuit tv (CCTV) surveillance creates a chilling impact for individuals who concern their actions could also be misinterpreted. The identical issues are equally relevant in colleges. College students might wrestle with fundamental questions on who they work together with and the way their peer engagement is perceived, particularly if these actions or associations may result in elevated scrutiny. College students can also change or in any other case tailor emotional reactions to keep away from these reactions being captured and adopted by elevated monitoring. Whether or not for surveillance, assessing feelings, or different aims, the pervasive affect of facial recognition know-how will basically redefine and negatively affect college students’ expertise in class.

However the harms won’t be borne equally by college students. Counting on surveillance instruments which are inaccurate and reproduce racial biases will solid an undue degree of suspicion on Black and brown college students. Such an final result perpetuates the harmful concept that college students of shade are elevated “threats” that should be managed, somewhat than educated. Nor can this expanded surveillance be divorced from the continuing disaster of the school-to-prison pipeline. Making assessments and disciplinary choices based mostly on facial recognition know-how will exacerbate preexisting racial disparities in suspensions, expulsions, school-based arrests, and different types of exclusionary faculty self-discipline.

Moreover, harvested and saved knowledge about college students additionally carries the inherent threat of being utilized by different companies, together with regulation enforcement, household welfare, and immigration. Collectively, deployment of facial recognition know-how creates an surroundings that criminalizes college students of shade and denies these younger individuals the chance to study.


All these issues are additional heightened in colleges the place regulation enforcement would have direct entry to facial recognition know-how and harvested knowledge. Many younger individuals of shade already battle in overpoliced, hyper-surveilled communities, and are topic to racially biased policing practices and techniques from an early age. In locations like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, police departments are deploying the identical varieties of tech-driven monitoring and surveillance that college students, particularly Black and brown college students, search refuge from of their colleges.

For these and plenty of different causes, faculty districts must transfer swiftly to ban the usage of facial recognition know-how as half of a bigger dedication to making sure college students really feel protected in class. Bans would assist mitigate practices that threat reproducing racial disparities in self-discipline and subjecting Black and brown college students to elevated and unwarranted scrutiny. However that’s simply step one.

Group stakeholders can turn into a robust voice in pressuring their native governments to join the rising checklist of cities and states which have banned police use of facial recognition know-how. College students—kids—shouldn’t be monitored by surveillance know-how that’s flawed, reproduces biased outcomes, and is ill-equipped to do something past erode public belief and security.

John S. Cusick is a litigation fellow on the NAACP Authorized Protection Fund, primarily engaged on police misconduct, legal justice, and voting circumstances and advocacy.

Clarence Okoh is an equal justice works fellow on the NAACP Authorized Protection Fund. His fellowship venture seeks to problem the discriminatory use and affect of synthetic intelligence and machine-learning applied sciences on communities of shade and low-income communities.