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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

We Don’t Have to Sacrifice Students’ Privacy for Campus Security

Colleges and universities face a distinctly modern conundrum: They want and need to keep students safe, but smart security technologies that can track and monitor students’ activities on and off campus threaten their right to privacy. Schools and technology vendors must collaborate to find solutions that increase campus security while also protecting individual privacy.

The Privacy Problem

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The very nature of many of these advanced tools requires the collection and storage of sensitive personally identifiable information. The threat of a data breach is one obvious concern — but so is the destruction of the university experience as we know it.

College is just a time for personal growth and learning.

Imagine how violating and restrictive it would’ve felt if the administration of one’s college could’ve determined where you were on campus anytime and who you were talking to on social media marketing.

But it’s a growing possibility that schools will overstep the fine line between student safety and individual rights.

Major Risks Accompany New Security Tools

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Facial recognition technology poses a really acute risk to individual privacy. Schools already track students to some extent using their ID cards — it could hardly be described as a big stretch for them to implement facial recognition technology to increase tracking abilities.

Law enforcement has already explored this tool, but it’s proven largely ineffective and invasive. For instance, when London’s Metropolitan Police trialed the technology throughout 2018 and 2019, it stopped 42 individuals but only identified eight of them properly.

The Danger of Social Surveillance

Advanced social surveillance is another emerging risk for student privacy. Universities curently have a lot of data at their fingertips that poses a security risk for both students and staff. That danger grows once you fold in advances in data and natural language processing which make social media posts and other information easy for administrators to track and analyze.

The very last thing a university should want is for these technologies to be utilized against its students — just imagine people relations crisis that could occur. 

In addition, schools and universities haven’t even begun to contemplate most of the data complexities that come with using these new security tools. How will the data be stored? When will it be deleted? Can police get access to it? If so, when? Who else can access it? These are only a few of the many concerns that really must be addressed.

Privacy and Security Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

The privacy concerns accompanying new security tools are considerable. But that’s perhaps not to say that universites and colleges shouldn’t employ the latest technology to increase student safety. Campus administrators just need to achieve this carefully.

They should work hand in hand with security businesses to strategically employ and use the technology, setting up strict rules for how so when the tool will come in to play and by whom the information may be accessed and used.

If colleges and universities implement new security tools with the following three strategies in your mind, they’ll become more likely to keep the privacy — and safety — of their students intact:

1. Earn stakeholder buy-in. 

This includes faculty, staff, and students. Inform each stakeholder audience of the key security concerns and threats of any technology you’re considering.

Open a dialogue about how exactly people experience security on campus and crime-prevention measures before you implement any such thing.

You could find people feel at ease with some security technologies but not the others.

The University of Washington Bothell provides a solid framework for accomplishing this. The school surveyed students, faculty, and staff on campus security to comprehend where people felt safe and what areas needed additional security. The survey found that over fifty percent of the participants were either mildly or highly concerned about a campus shooter, and almost all agreed that security cameras would make them feel safer.

2. Enact specific solutions to specific problems. 

Tools like facial recognition and social media marketing monitoring promise a lot but are hard to implement at scale to target specific issues.

Instead of relying on one solution to solve your entire problems, focus on the problem first.

Determine a certain problem you need to solve, then adopt a specific technology solution to solve it.

Luckily, the security industry is flooded with new technologies that can address virtually any problem that universites and colleges might encounter — without invading privacy.

From threat-detection technology, that may detect threats without invading privacy, to systems that detect intruders to help schools respond to theft, there are plenty of options that strengthen security without requiring the collection and storage of students’ PII.

For example, a handful of universities, including Temple University and Duke University, recently replaced ID cards with students’ phones. While this process requires students to relinquish a similar quantity of PII, it’s both far more convenient and a step toward advanced security across campus. It helps limit the likelihood of intruders picking up a dropped ID card and gaining access to residence halls and labs.

3. Plan security holistically.

No security solution should be considered in isolation. You must think about a number of “side effects,” such as the data it requires and creates and the extra processing it needs. You should also consider how the new solution works with existing security processes and personnel. 

Before launching ahead full speed, design a trial period that will reveal how the new technology works and what processes will soon be required.

Campus security and student privacy aren’t mutually exclusive. By approaching security smartly and working with security firms to implement specific solutions to specific problems, universites and colleges can advance security without transforming the campus in to a surveillance state.

Image credit: Ameer Basheer — Unsplash


Ben Ziomek

CPO and co-founder of Actuate

CPO and co-founder of Actuate. He works in AI-based product development to build software that employs deep learning to automatically identify weapons in real-time security feeds.

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