Like something out of a James Bond film, dorm residents of USF may soon be greeted with a facial recognition camera — if the test run goes well, that is. Currently, only one residence hall, Fromm, has this technology, but it has been in a “pilot” phase since Fall 2013.
“It’s a big security enhancement.We’re using technology to improve something that’s already being done,” said Jason Rossi, the Director of One Card and Campus Security Systems. Rossi explained that the software does exactly what front-desk workers (referred to as Community Assistants, or CAs) do — recognizes people’s faces and determines whether or not they belong in the building.
The facial recognition technology is meant to increase security in the residence halls by identifying any non-residents trying to enter the building, and flagging them for the CAs.
USF Law Professor Susan Freiwald, who specializes in cyber law and information privacy, said, “I’m glad the university seems interested in making sure that the cameras are effective in their purpose, rather than putting them up just because they can.”
Freiwald did raise concerns over campus security being able to learn her habits and the hours she keeps.
“It’s a good idea to have a record of non-authorized access to solve crimes, but it seems unnecessary to store information of people for whom there is no suspicion of wrongdoing for a whole year,” she added.
Addressing privacy concerns, Rossi noted that, “no one is actively watching the footage.” For those concerned about the facial database that campus security will have access to, Rossi assured that the photos would only be stored for the duration the student lives in the residence hall. He explained that having our faces captured, whether by static photo or live-video, is a culturally accepted phenomenon.
“Is your face on Facebook? Mine is, my children’s are,” Rossi said, “There’s something as a culture…where, if I were at a Giants’ game and my face got put up on the big screen, I’d jump for joy.”
Is this technology effective? While the technology is working in Fromm, it has yet to be launched for CAs. Rossi said the residence hall staff should be trained on the facial recognition software in March. A Fromm Hall CA, Giana Orsi, said that she, “doesn’t know much about it,” but, “ it seems like a nice backup.”
Currently, non-residents are allowed in residence halls as long as they are properly checked in as a “guest” by a resident of the building and a community assistant. However some USF students don’t follow this protocol and attempt to sneak in, bypassing the front desk and creating security issues. Many USF students travel in large groups, making it difficult for the community assistant to tell who is entering the building.
This new technology is intended to make the CA’s job easier. Students moving into a residence hall will have their photos taken during move-in; these photos will be stored in a database for one year. Throughout the rest of the school year a camera outside of the building will capture student faces, and using the data from the stored photos, will determine who the student is and if they live in the building. The CA at the desk will be notified if a non-resident is trying to enter the building.
The camera log is only visible right now to Public Safety and One Card to determine its accuracy. In terms of identifying faces, it has shown 70% accuracy so far in Fromm Hall, according to Rossi. He explained the camera needs a good shot of a student’s face in order to work, meaning students wearing baseball caps or looking down at their phones are not always accurately identified.
Rossi explains the technology not only makes the CA’s job of providing security easier, but it will compliment students’ natural tendencies to travel in large groups. “[Campus security] is always trying to break the way that you naturally function, but this technology will compliment how you already move around on campus,” Rossi said.
Facial recognition technology is quickly making its way into our everyday lives. The New York Times reported that certain retailers, who already use facial recognition to catch shoplifters, are looking into installing the technology to track big spenders to offer them discounts and deals. Facial recognition is becoming so ubiquitous that a pair of Japanese professors has already invented high-tech glasses that would shield you from facial recognition cameras. Their aim? To stop the “invasion of privacy caused by photographs taken in secret,” the professors told Slate magazine.
Sally Morgan, Assistant Resident Director of Fromm Hall, recognized potential student privacy concerns. “I’m sure some students will have privacy concerns but they should understand that it’s for their own safety,” she said. “There has to be a balance between keeping our residents safe and making sure they don’t feel like their privacy has been violated.”
Rossi also referenced this quote, spoken by Harvard Professor Juliette Kayyem, when further addressing privacy concerns: “The general public has an unrealistic expectation of pure security; however, they have little interest in the preparedness process. Interest in security peaks during a time of crisis and the public has little to no tolerance for breaches of security.”
Graphic by Jasmine Bautista