School Facial Recognition

FILE - In this July 10, 2018, file photo, students walk down a hallway at Lockport High School in Lockport, N.Y. On the upper left a camera with facial recognition capabilities hangs on the wall waiting for its installation to be completed. The upstate New York school district has begun using facial recognition technology to look for threats. But civil rights advocates want to stop it, saying it infringes on student privacy. (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson, File)

A local member of the state Assembly is prioritizing the passage of a bill in the state Senate that would impose a moratorium on biometric technology in grade schools during the upcoming legislative session.

Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, introduced a bill in the Assembly in March that would impose a moratorium on biometric technology, including facial recognition systems, while the New York State Education Department studies the technology. Her bill passed in the Assembly but a companion bill was not taken up in the Senate during the 2019 legislative session.

With the 2020 session starting soon, Wallace said, “We are fully intending to make this a priority.”

This past Thursday, Lockport City School District launched what is reportedly the first facial and object recognition-capable surveillance system in a New York public school system.

Wallace said her initial reaction to Lockport’s launch is that her concerns with the technology remain, and although the state education department has worked with Lockport to address problems with the technology it has not created a statewide uniform policy to govern use of the technology in public schools.

Wallace noted a section of her bill orders a moratorium on further acquisitions and use of the technology while the implications of use, including effects on privacy, are studied by NYSED.

Wallace’s bill passed in the Assembly in a 128-19 vote, but the Senate version of the bill, sponsored by State Sen. Brian Kavanagh, did not come to a vote before the 2019 legislative session ended in June.

Wallace said she introduced the bill last year after seeing school districts across the state explore the technology, and she questioned whether the funds that the districts would use to purchase it — allocated from the state Smart Schools Bond Act — could instead be spent on better educational technology, such as Smart Boards and tablets.

“It can be used for security, but it’s also supposed to go to technology ... to help the students learn in the new century,” Wallace said.

The cost of properly protecting data gathered and stored by biometric technology is a concern as well, she said.

The Lockport school district used $1.4 million of $4.2 million allocated to it through the Smart Schools Bond Act to acquire and install a facial and object recognition security system powered by the Aegis software suite created by Canadian-based SN Technologies.

The facial recognition software works off a database of flagged individuals and sends an alert to district personnel when a flagged person is detected on school property. The object recognition feature reportedly detects 10 types of guns and will alert certain district personnel, as well as law enforcement, if a weapon is detected.

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