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New York state report urges schools to use caution in use of facial recognition technology

Aug. 9, 2023
The state legislature asked for the report after it placed a moratorium on schools' use of the technology because of privacy concerns.

A report from New York state urges schools to exercise caution in their use of biometric identifying technology such as facial recognition.

The Poughkeepsie Journal says that the report from the New York Office of Information Technology Services and the state Education Department identifies "discernable risks," including biometric data breaches, mistaken identification through facial recognition flaws, and students being turned away from school because of technological errors.

"Compromised biometric facial data could result in the disclosure of physical characteristics that cannot be replaced, as compared to a credit card or social security number, which could be changed if necessary," the report said.

The New York legislature called for the report in 2020 as part of a bill that placed a moratorium on schools purchasing and using biometric identifying technology. Lawmakers acted after the Lockport (New York) City School District adopted the technology as part of its security plans. That led to a lawsuit from civil rights advocates over privacy concerns.

A survey was sent to every school administrator in the state and other interested parties, such as vendors and civil rights groups. It was also open to the public, so teachers, parents and students could respond. Just under 1,000 respondents completed the survey in its entirety.

In the next few weeks, the State Education Commissioner will make a decision on whether to allow the use of biometric identifying technology in public schools.

New York schools reported little or no use, so far, of handprint, retina/iris patterns, DNA sequencing, or voice or gait recognition to identify or track students.

However, "fingerprint scanning has been shown to be effective for making school lunch payments, managing student and staff attendance, and checking out library books," the report said.

Facial recognition technology is already in some schools, the report said, to verify students' identities for online courses and tests, as well as attempts to measure how engaged students are, going as far as scanning for facial expressions that might show when a student is bored or frustrated.

But it's not in many schools. Only seven out of 212 data protection officers for school districts reported they used facial recognition technology. Five of the seven reported they only used it for teacher and staff attendance.

About the Author

Mike Kennedy | Senior Editor

Mike Kennedy, senior editor, has written for AS&U on a wide range of educational issues since 1999.

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