Cybersafe: UCCS facial recognition study brings awareness to presence of cameras

Cyber Safe

More than 1,700 people walking on the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs campus were unknowingly photographed as part of a facial recognition research project.

A UCCS professor along with a research team set up a long-range surveillance camera in an office window, capturing thousands of images of people walking by between February 2012 and September 2013.  

The camera was able to capture 1,732 identities, according to the study.  

The goal of this study, they say, was to collect data to enhance facial recognition technology.

“It’s a little freaky,” said Jessica Battin, a student studying biomedical science. “I think they should have informed us. I think people should have a say if their faces are going to get posted all over the internet.”  

That is a little unsettling to some current students.  

“I don’t personally feel threatened by the fact they’ve done it,” said Thecla Shubert, a student studying history and geography. “I just wish they had been more open about it.”

Others were happy to help out the cause.  

“I think it’s kind of a cool thing we are helping out with that,” said Galen Atkinson, a student studying game design. “Personally I don’t think I’d be mad if my face showed up on there. I’d be happy to help out the cause in any way that I can.”

UCCS sent us the following statement on the topic:

“The University of Colorado Colorado Springs is committed to the principle of academic freedom and the ability for faculty to study and research a variety of topics. The university takes the privacy of its students seriously as outlined in the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The research protocol was analyzed by the UCCS Institutional Review Board, which assures the protection of the rights and welfare of human subjects in research. No personal information was collected or distributed in this specific study. The photographs were collected in public areas and made available to researchers after five years when most students would have graduated. The purpose is to test the evolving technology around facial recognition software, and to address limitations of the current technology.”

Rodney Gullate, Certified Chief Information Security Officer with Firma IT, said photographing people without their knowledge is more common than you might think. 

“Cameras are everywhere,” he said. “You are on camera at least 50 times from the second you leave your house to when you come back.”

“The keywords we are talking about reasonable expectation of privacy,” he said. “If you are walking outside, up and down the street, you can be photographed or recorded. It’s not a legal thing. Would have it been nice to let the people, the public know, ‘Hey we’re going to be recording, for this project,’ sure. Legally, they don’t have to.” 

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