LCSD to test Aegis system without facial recognition

The Lockport City School District is looking to start using the Aegis facial and object recognition software suite without the facial recognition aspect, district administrators announced on Monday.

Superintendent Michelle Bradley said the board is currently considering a policy that will remove statutory authority to add pictures of students into the facial recognition database, noting that no images are currently in the system. While the policy will continue to cover level 2 or 3 sex offenders, staff that have been suspended or are on administrative leave, adults who are prohibited by entering the district by a court order or adults that the district believes pose a credible threat, however, district officials say these individuals will not be added to the facial recognition database at this time. As a result, the system, at least initially, will involve weapons recognition only.

Bradley said the district does does not have a set date for the launch of that part of the system, but district officials intend to working with the state education department to allow for testing and eventually implementation. She noted that the district has been waiting since June to do its initial implementation phase of the project, which would include testing the cameras and training staff with the system.

District Technology Director Robert LiPuma said there were pictures of sex offenders, but they have been taken out because they were a year old. He said it will depend on the board of education's decision if the new and updated pictures are put in the system.

If the board approves the policy change, it will be sent to the state education for review.

The New York State Education Department reiterated its statement for the district to continue to wait to begin testing until they say so.

Stefanie Coyle, the education counsel for the New York State Civil Liberties Union, said the move is not enough and that the district should never use the technology.

"The Lockport City School District is only minimally complying with the explicit instruction from our State Education Department to neither test this system nor subject children to it. Temporarily pausing facial tracking is not enough when we know that advanced surveillance technology in schools is discriminatory and unethical," Coyle said. "The Lockport City School District should commit to protecting the privacy and civil rights of students by never using facial recognition or other biometric surveillance and abide by the New York State Department of Education’s call to leave these cameras off."

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 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, and alert law enforcement if it detects a weapon in a school.

After district officials announced their intention to start testing the software in June, they were told to stop by state education officials until further notice.

State Assembly Member Monica Wallace has introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on facial recognition and direct the state education department to study the issue further. The bill passed the assembly but was not acting in the state senate before the legislature ended the legislative session in June.

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