School's plan for facial recognition system raises concerns

June 03, 2019 - 7:09 pm

LOCKPORT, N.Y. (AP) — A New York school district has finished installing a facial recognition system intended to spot potentially dangerous intruders, but state officials concerned about privacy say they want to know more before the technology is put into use.

Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said Monday that department employees plan to meet with Lockport City School officials about the system being tested this week. In the meantime, she said, the district has said it will not use facial recognition software while it checks other components of the system.

The rapidly developing technology has made its way into airports, motor vehicle departments, stores and stadiums, but is so far rare in public schools.

Lockport is preparing to bring its system online as cities elsewhere are considering reining in the technology's use. San Francisco in May became the first U.S. city to ban its use by police and other city departments and Oakland is among others considering similar legislation.

A bill by Democrat Assembly Member Monica Wallace would create a one-year moratorium on the technology's use in New York schools to allow lawmakers time to review it and draft regulations. The legislation is pending.

Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley, on the district's website, said the district's initial implementation of the system this week will include adjusting cameras mounted throughout the buildings and training staff members who will monitor them from a room in the high school. The system is expected to be fully online on Sept. 1.

"Much to our dismay, school shootings continue to occur in our country," wrote Bradley who did not respond to email and telephone messages Monday. "In many cases, these shootings involve students connected to the schools where these horrific incidents occur."

The $1.4 million Canadian-made Aegis system, funded through a state technology bond, is designed to enable security officers to quickly respond to the appearance of expelled students, disgruntled employees, sex offenders or certain weapons the system is programmed to detect.

Only students seen as threats will be loaded into the database. Administrators have said it could thwart shootings like the February 2018 attack in which expelled student Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

"This would have identified (Cruz) as not being able to be in that building," Tony Olivo, a security consultant who recommended the system for Lockport, told The Associated Press last year.

Officials said the district is the first in the country to adopt the Aegis system. But the New York Civil Liberties Union said it has no place in schools.

"The Lockport School District has barreled ahead with implementing invasive surveillance technology in its schools with little regard for student privacy and civil rights," education counsel Stefanie Coyle said.

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