Smart cameras have no place on campus: take them down (Leiden)

On January 12, Mare revealed that the Executive Board intends to switch the surveillance cameras they bought for monitoring classroom occupation back on. In the article, the vice-chair of the board is quoted saying that privacy is now secured and the board is fine with the remaining risks of use. The University Council’s advice on this matter is important… unless it is negative, in which case it will have to be “weighed” on its merits. These seemingly soothing words disguise the fact that none of this has been put to those who use the classrooms, i.e., the people who are going to be monitored, counted and surveilled. Our core objection is this: the use of smart cameras and surveillance technology in universities undermines the academic values of freedom and autonomy. It sends the message to students and staff that they are not trusted and must be constantly supervised. From the perspective of students and staff, the use of these technologies can have a chilling and repressing effect. It exacerbates feelings of insecurity for all, but especially for those (historically) most vulnerable and for those with first hand experience of authoritarian regimes. “Function creep” is also a real danger. Surveillance technology is often implemented with initially-limited functionality, but eventually extended to make fuller use of technological capacities. As the University Services Department themselves admitted, the cameras’ functionality could be extended by university management in the future, if they wished. Were that to happen, they would have at their immediate disposal hundreds of powerful AI-powered minicomputers with 3D cameras that have the ability to track where students and staff walk, what gender they are, and even where they look.

Alex Brandsen, Remco Breuker, Leila Demarest, Petr Kopecky, Andrew Littlejohn, Hilde van Meegdenburg, Francesco Ragazzi, Tom Theuns and Elmer Veldkamp in Smart cameras have no place on campus: take them down (