Aegis software launched in Lockport schools

Lockport City School District announced Thursday that it has begun using its controversial facial and object recognition surveillance system.

The announcement on the district website came as a surprise, since administrators had previously told the Union-Sun & Journal they did not have a set date for launching the system.

“I am pleased to report that the District has completed the initial implementation phase of the AEGIS system, and has also completed its related discussions with (New York State Education Department). As a result, the AEGIS system became operational on January 2, 2020, in conjunction with the return of students and staff from recess,” Superintendent Michelle Bradley said in the posted announcement.

“The AEGIS system, which includes gun detection and facial recognition, will be functioning as an additional security measure in all buildings. District Policy 5685 (“Operation and Use of Security Systems/Privacy Protections”) governs the operation of the AEGIS system. In order to address issues raised by NYSED, Policy 5685 provides that in no event shall a District student be placed in the AEGIS system database.”

The district’s use of the Aegis system was stalled for months after NYSED told the district to hold off until its privacy concerns were addressed. Last spring, Bradley had announced a goal launch date of Sept. 1, but that changed after NYSED warned the district in statements to the media that its concerns had not been adequately addressed.

In November, Temitope Akinyemi, NYSED’s chief privacy officer, wrote to Bradley telling her that if changes were made in the district’s policy governing use of the system — to further clarify that students’ identifying information won’t be stored in the system database — it would allow the district to employ the system.

The amended Aegis use policy could be put to a vote by the board of education at its meeting next week.

Asked Thursday afternoon whether NYSED had approved the launch, a department spokesperson pointed to its November letter and did not offer any additional comment when informed that the district’s amended system use policy hasn’t been approved by the school board yet.

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 recognition security systems in an American school. The system relies on the Aegis software suite created by Canadian-based SN Technologies.

The facial recognition 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 object recognition feature would reportedly detect 10 types of guns and alert certain district personnel, as well as law enforcement, if a weapon is detected.

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