Facial recognition system at NY school a no-go

Facial recognition system at NY school a no-go

(N.Y.) Like school administrators everywhere, the Lockport School District wants to find cost-effective ways for keeping their schools safe.

And for a while it seemed they had found something—facial recognition software.

Now, that idea has been put on hold after state education officials and advocates for student privacy reminded the district of legislation approved earlier this year that imposes a moratorium on the use of the software until a study of the impacts can be completed.

“The Lockport School District has barreled ahead with implementing invasive surveillance technology in its schools with little regard for student privacy and civil rights,” the New York Civil Liberties Union, among the biggest critics of the use of the software by public agencies, said in a statement last week. “This technology does not belong in schools.”

With the advancement of image-driven technology, the use of facial recognition software has exploded in just the last year. Anywhere the fingerprints or other identity assurances are needed, businesses selling the software are also looking to find customers.

But there are also clear uses in crime prevention. Some retailers are looking to use the software in an effort to stop shoplifting. Some police agencies are interested in its ability to quickly scan crowds for a wanted criminal.

The system that was being installed at Lockport, a district serving about 4,000 students in upstate New York, would be used to “detect and characterize intrusions by people in critical areas,” according to a memo from the district’s superintendent.

Called the Aegis system, the new software had been expected to be fully operational by the time the fall term would begin in 2019.

“Aegis is an early warning system that informs staff of threats including guns or individuals who have been identified as not allowed in our buildings as defined in District policy,” Lockport Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said in the memo. “Aegis has the ability to extend that screening to every door and throughout buildings to identify people or guns. Early detection of a threat to our schools allows for a quicker and more effective response.”

As effective as such systems might be, they also attract a lot of public controversy.

Just in the last month, investors of Amazon stock called on the company to halt the sale of its facial recognition software while the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted to prohibit its police or other city departments to use the software.

A major question is whether some of the most popular facial surveillance systems have a problem identifying people of color or female faces.

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