Legislation calling for study of facial recognition technology at schools passes Assembly

James Neiss/staff photographerThe Lockport school system now has the technology in place for facial recognition at area schools using school surveillance cameras like shown at Lockport High School.

A bill that would effectively ban the use of facial recognition technology in schools for a year to allow for further study of the issue passed the state Assembly on Thursday.

“There are real questions about its reliability and about a school’s ability to protect sensitive student biometric data,” the legislation’s author, Assembly Member Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, said Thursday. “Before rushing forward with implementation, I believe it’s prudent to have the state Department of Education study the issue and propose regulations. This bill simply asks that we take a closer look at this technology before moving forward.”

The Lockport City School District 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 security surveillance 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.

In a release Thursday, Wallace made note of Lockport’s system without specifically naming the school district. Wallace said she introduced the legislation to require the state Department of Education to look more deeply into the costs, benefits, and risks associated with using this technology in schools before further investments are made.

“We cannot simply presume the safety and reliability of this software based upon vendor representations,” Wallace said. “Rather, let’s have the Department of Education – an entity with the singular focus of providing a sound education while keeping kids safe – weigh in and make sure we’re spending public money on school safety as effectively as we can.”

The school board adopted a policy this past December outlining how the Aegis system will be governed.

According to the policy, those expected to be in the database may include: students who have been suspended, staff suspended or on administrative leave, level 2 and level 3 sex offenders, any person who has been notified that they may not be on district property, anyone prohibited from entering district property by court order or anyone believed to pose a threat.

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