The University of Kentucky just installed a whopping 2,000 security cameras across its campus in the name of security, but some students – along with the ACLU – have voiced privacy concerns – noting one of the cameras is even aimed at the school’s free-speech zone.
The $5 million security system also includes electronic IDs for students that will help monitor students’ whereabouts, as the cards will be used by students to access campus buildings and dorms after hours.
University of Kentucky Police Chief Joe Monroe told the Lexington Herald-Leader that the security cameras and electronic student ID cards will “allow us unprecedented capability for monitoring the campus for crime and protecting our students.”
But not everyone is thrilled with the new system, students and privacy advocates alike.
“You’re capturing a lot of information about people who are completely innocent,” Amber Duke, a spokeswoman for the ACLU, told the Lexington Herald-Leader. “That’s a lot of information that could be misused.”
University of Kentucky Senior Nolan Gray, regional director of Students For Liberty, told The College Fix that the university is “responding to imagined threats” and argued it may have been safer, cheaper and less invasive to invest in police foot patrols to ward off possible criminal activities.
The cameras, Gray said, are in highly lit, visible areas – not in dark allies where traditional crimes often happen. One of the cameras is even aimed at the school’s “free speech zone,” which, Nolan says, is awkward considering the fact that it’s the only place on campus where students protest issues without fear of reprisals from authorities.
Neither university officials nor the campus’ chief of police were available for comment to The Fix.
Monroe declined to tell the Lexington Herald-Leader how long or where the system will hold the information gleaned from the cameras or the ID cards. The police chief, in an effort to reassure those concerned about the university’s accumulation of data, explained that the information would not be held for very long.
The system also includes 26 new blue phone locations for emergency contacts, as well as early-warning speakers throughout the campus that alert students and staff of weather emergencies.
Student government President Roshan Palli told the Lexington Herald-Leader most students aren’t concerned.
“As a whole, students have felt really safe on campus, and more than anything else, it would reassure parents and students even more,” he said.
Yet an editorial published Monday in the Kentucky Kernel, the student newspaper at UK, questioned the need for such an extensive and possibly invasive system.
“This intrusiveness might be justifiable if UK was a particularly dangerous place, but it is not,” the editorial stated. “The university’s online crime log is mostly filled with small thefts and drinking-related issues.”
“Even if UK was a particularly dangerous place, increasing the security to Orwellian proportions wouldn’t necessarily prevent crime. The cameras can only offer information to police after a crime has been committed. And tracking which buildings students access after hours with their IDs seems even less helpful in preventing crimes.”
Closely monitoring students is an issue that has raised red-flags at other universities besides the University of Kentucky. At the University of Texas, for example, it has a similar ID system that tracks student locations with ID cards, and that has prompted students to voice privacy concerns as well.
Two UT students, in a recent column in The Daily Texas, called the program “warrantless access to students’ whereabouts.”
“While (the University of Texas Police Department’s) prying comes nowhere close to the appalling transgressions of the NSA’s civil liberties breach, (the University of Texas Police Department’s) actions still raise ethical questions,” the two UT students who co-signed the piece wrote. “UT students and faculty have an inherent right to privacy, as do all citizens. It is a necessary, deserved privilege that maintains the people’s autonomy from the government, a necessary and just feature of all free societies.”
Fix contributor Christopher White is a University of Missouri graduate student, an editorial assistant for The College Fix, and Missouri state chairman of Young Americans for Liberty. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.