State Attempts to Nix Public School’s Facial Recognition Plans

But it might not have the authority to actually stop an upcoming trial.

5. 30. 19 by Kristin Houser
ElasticComputeFarm/Victor Tangermann
Image by ElasticComputeFarm/Victor Tangermann

Chaos Reigns

New York’s Lockport City School District (CSD) was all set to become the first public school district in the U.S. to test facial recognition on its students and staff.

But just two days after the school district’s superintendent announced the project’s June 3 start date, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) attempted to put a stop to the trial, citing concerns for students’ privacy.

Still, it’s not clear whether the department has the authority to actually put the project on hold — the latest sign that the U.S. is in desperate need of clear-cut facial recognition legislation.

Red Flags

On Tuesday, the Lockport Union-Sun and Journal published a story detailing Lockport CSD’s facial recognition plans.

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In September 2018, it spent $1.4 million on a new surveillance system powered by SN Technologies’ Aegis software suite. The software is designed to scan faces, check them against a database, and alert school officials if it detects a “flagged person” — which, according to the newspaper, could be anything from a suspended student to a known sex offender.

In addition to scanning faces, the software is also designed to detect 10 types of guns.

Privacy Concerns

Lockport CSD planned to test the system this summer so it would be ready for wider implementation on Sept. 1. However, on Thursday, the NYSED reportedly asked the school district to delay the project’s launch.

“The Department has not come to the conclusion that the District has demonstrated the necessary framework is in place to protect the privacy of data subjects and properly secure the data,” NYSED officials wrote in a statement to BuzzFeed News. “As such, it is the Department’s continued recommendation that the District delay its use of facial recognition technology.”

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Who’s the Boss?

In the Lockport Journal‘s story, Superintendent Michelle Bradley said the district told state education officials in early May of its plans to start testing the facial recognition system and never heard back, which makes it seem like the district didn’t think it needed the NYSED’s blessing to move forward with the project.

The wording of the NYSED’s latest statement — “continued recommendation” — supports this, suggesting that the department might not actually have the ability to stop the district from using facial recognition on students if it wants to.

Bradley could probably clear this up, but she has yet to publicly respond to the NYSED statement. However, based on what she told the Lockport Journal on Tuesday — “I would say for the Lockport City School District, while it’s controversial, it’s not prohibited” — the project might still launch on Monday.

READ MORE: The First Public Schools In The US Will Start Using Facial Recognition Next Week [BuzzFeed News]

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More on facial recognition: Police Are Using Facial Recognition Tech on Unconscious Suspects


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