New York School District Changes Facial Recognition Policy

The Lockport Board of Education has decided that it will delete photos of suspended students from its new facial recognition database. The controversial $2.75 million security system has raised privacy concerns.

by Thomas J. Prohaska, The Buffalo News / July 16, 2019
Shutterstock/Cory Seamer

(TNS) — Suspended students would no longer be among those whose photos would be programmed into the Lockport City School District's facial recognition security system, according to a policy change the Board of Education will consider Aug. 7.

The district's plan to use a facial recognition system with digital cameras at each entrance to all school buildings has been controversial. On June 27, the State Education Department ordered the district not to test the system this summer because of concerns about student privacy.

The cameras and other equipment were installed last summer but have not been used.

A CNN compilation of major school shootings in the U.S. shows that most of the shooters were current or former students of the school where the killings occurred.

"The changes in policy were made in response to NYSED concerns expressed to LCSD last month," Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley told The Buffalo News in an email.

"The appeals process and privacy were of concern. We have sent a copy of the first reading of (the) revised policy to NYSED," Bradley wrote. "It is expected that the Board will take action on the revised policy in August. The hope is that with the revisions, NYSED will be more comfortable with LCSD moving forward with the initial implementation phase."

The revised policy would give Bradley final say over adding or deleting individuals from the system, but a decision to add someone to the banned list could be appealed to the Board of Education.

The revised policy also says the district could not change the categories of people whose photos are programmed to trigger an alarm if one of the cameras spots them, except in consultation with the Education Department's chief privacy officer.

The district spent $1.4 million on the software for the Aegis system from SN Technologies, a Canadian company. Counting the 300 cameras that go with it, the price rose to $2.75 million.

The district is supposed to be reimbursed by state aid from the 2014 Smart Schools Bond Act.

Staff members who are suspended or placed on administrative leave still would be programmed into the system as barred visitors, along with Level 2 and 3 sex offenders, anyone barred from district property by the district or a court, and "anyone believed to pose a threat based on credible information presented to the district," according to the policy.

The revision would also direct the district's technology director to come up with a way to encrypt all communications regarding alerts to be generated by the system.

Those alarms are to be shared with local law enforcement agencies and a small group of district administrators.

The district has been the target of steady criticism over its plans from the New York Civil Liberties Union, which points to studies of facial recognition systems worldwide that show they work best if the subject is a white man, but trigger more frequent false alarms for women, children and people of color.

©2019 The Buffalo News (Buffalo, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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