Students and activists gathered for the March Against Carceral Tech at Carnegie Mellon University on Monday to protest the use of facial recognition technology and bring awareness to the relationship between academic institutions and state violence.

This summer, CMU drafted a policy that would have allowed the university to use facial recognition during criminal investigations. Civil liberties advocates and researchers have expressed concern that this technology normalizes surveillance and threatens privacy. Following community feedback, CMU shelved the policy.  

The groups CMU Against ICE and Coalition Against Predictive Policing came together to create the Against Carceral Tech group and organized the march, which started at the Walking to the Sky statue and ended at Flagstaff Hill. The march stopped at buildings that organizers said have contributed to the advancements in carceral tech, or technology that’s used to aid the police in incarcerating people. Speakers voiced their concerns about exploitation of students in tech fields. 

Against Carceral Tech is calling for a citywide ban on facial recognition technology, according to a press release about the march. In 2020, Pittsburgh City Council passed legislation largely prohibiting the Department of Public Safety from using or acquiring facial recognition technology without receiving approval. The legislation does not cover JNET, a system with facial recognition capabilities that state law enforcement agencies can use. 

Bonnie Fan, a CMU graduate, helped to organize Against Carceral Tech and the march.

“I learned that this institution does not care about me or you or any of its workers or students, and learned that instead it was my fellow students and community members organizing outside of campus to show up for me and show up for all of us,” Fan said.

Groups in attendance included the Thomas Merton Center, Divest and Sanctions Coalition, Alliance for Police Accountability, Casa San Jose and other organizers from Pittsburgh, CMU and the University of Pittsburgh.

Marchers also protested against the intersectionality of state violence and academic institutions. Various speakers shared their experience with gentrification, racial profiling, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and poor treatment of incarcerated individuals. 

Tanisha Long, a community organizer with the Abolitionist Law Center, said carceral tech led to her being arrested three times. She said her mother has also been arrested due to the technologies. Long directly referenced license plate scanners, facial recognition and racial profiling as things that led to her arrests.

“I am a part of this system whether I want to be a part of it or not. My name will always be in their database,” she said.

Lilly Kubit is a photojournalism intern at PublicSource. They can be reached at lillian@publicsource.org.

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Lilly Kubit (she/they) is a photojournalism intern at PublicSource. Hailing from the suburbs of Pittsburgh and now living in Shadyside, Lilly loves to be a part of her community. She is currently a senior...