New York Bill Looks to Ban Facial Recognition in Schools

A proposal to ban the use of the technology in schools for a year passed in the state Assembly. Lawmakers call the emerging technology “new and untested” and say the Department of Education should conduct a study.

by Connor Hoffman, Lockport Union-Sun & Journal / June 7, 2019

(TNS) — A bill that would effectively ban the use of facial recognition technology in schools for a year to allow for further study of the issue was referred to the state Assembly's Ways and Means committee after a Wednesday vote in the education committee, a spokesperson for Assembly Member Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, announced.

The bill was referred to Ways and Means in a 25-4 vote.

In a prepared statement, Wallace called facial recognition software "new and untested, especially in schools."

"There are real questions about its reliability," she said. "There are real questions about who will have access to sensitive student biometric data and how that data may be used."

Wallace believes the state Department of Education should study the issue.

"Before rushing forward with implementation, I think it is prudent to have the state Department of Education ... assess the reliability, cost and privacy risks associated with its use," her statement said. "My legislation doesn’t seek to prohibit use, it simply asks that we take a closer look before moving forward and implement guidelines to ensure student privacy will be protected."

Lockport City School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley said the district will continue to monitor the bill and "do our due diligence and continue to see how that progresses."

School board President John Linderman said he is not familiar with Wallace's bill and declined to comment on it.

A spokesperson for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's office said this past week that facial recognition needs to be studied.

"This issue needs to be explored further as we seek to balance safety and privacy? of our schoolchildren, especially in respect to these new and emerging technologies to avoid issues of bias and serious concerns regarding data storage," spokesman Don Kaplan wrote.

Last week, LCSD administrators told the Union-Sun & Journal of their intention to start testing the district's newly acquired facial and object recognition system, then within a few days bowed to a request from the state education department to delay testing the software for at least two weeks. District and state officials also agreed to meet in person and discuss the system in detail.

On Wednesday, Bradley said the parties are working together and will continue to do so. She did not answer whether a date has been set for the parties to meet.

The district used $1.4 million of the $4.2 million allocated to it through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to acquire and install one of the first facial and object security surveillance systems in an American school. The system relies on the Aegis software suite created by Canadian-based SN Technologies. The software works by using a database of flagged individuals and sending an alert to district personnel when a flagged person is detected on school property. The software reportedly also will detect 10 types of guns.

The school board adopted a policy this past December outlining how the Aegis system will be governed. According to the policy, 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.

©2019 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.