New York state wants Lockport district to delay facial recognition system

May 30, 2019
The system, designed to recognize persons who are not allowed on school property, has raised privacy concerns

The New York State Education Department wants the Lockport City School District to delay plans to test a new facial and object recognition security surveillance program that has raised privacy concerns.

The Lockport Union Sun & Journal reports that the state education department does not believe the Lockport district has the necessary regulations in place to start using its new facial recognition software.

The system, beleived to be one of the first to be installed in a U.S. school, is designed to compare faces captured by cameras and check them against a database of individuals who are not allowed on school property.

It sends an alert to district personnel when a flagged person is detected, and reportedly is able to detect 10 types of guns.

A spokesperson for the New York education department says officials are continuing to evaluate the district's privacy assessment to "ensure that student data will be protected with the addition of the new technology."

"It is the department’s continued recommendation that the district delay its use of facial recognition technology," the spokesperson says..

The district had been planning to begin testing of the system next week

The security upgrade has drawn protests from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which has asked the state education department to halt the project.

The NYCLU also asked the state legislature to do the same. State Assembly Member Monica Wallace has introduced a bill that, if passed, would effectively force Lockport to stop using the system. Her bill also asks the state education department to perform a study on facial recognition technology in schools.

According to a policy adopted by the school board, those expected to be in the database may include: students who have been suspended, staff suspended or on administrative leave, level 2 and level 3 sex offenders, any person who has been notified that they may not be on district property, anyone prohibited from entering district property by court order, or anyone believed to pose a threat.

Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley says she understands the system is controversial but noted, “it’s not something that is prohibited right now for us.” 

[Read Bradley's message to the community about the security system.]

The district used $1.4 million of the $4.2 million it received through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to install the system.

After the NYCLU expressed its concerns, the state education department consulted with Lockport school administrators to ensure privacy concerns were addressed.

Stefanie Coyle, education counsel for NYCLU, has expressed disappointment in the district's plans to move forward with the system.

“Facial recognition technology does little to protect students and poses serious risks for both privacy and civil rights,” Coyle says. “It is a shame that Lockport school administrators have decided to deploy this technology regardless of these concerns, making their students, parents and faculty into guinea pigs to test the use of this software in school contexts. We continue to believe that this type of invasive and inaccurate technology does not belong in schools.”

Administrators were hoping to make the system “live” by the 2019-20 school year.

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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