No start date yet for Lockport district's new facial recognition system

Lockport City School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley said this week that the district does not currently have a date for implementation of its new Aegis facial recognition system. 

The district is using $1.4 million of its allocated $4.2 million SmartSchools Bond Act funding to implement a new security camera system equipped with Aegis facial recognition software, which has been purchased from Ontario-based SNTech. 

On Monday, Bradley said district officials are still discussing privacy matters with the state education department. She said the district anticipates that the state Board of Regents will be discussing a section of New York education law that deals with the release of personally identifiable information at its next meeting. The board is scheduled to meet on Jan. 14. 

"It seems to make sense to see what comes out of the discussion that the Board of Regents has related to privacy matters (and how it may relate to the use of the Aegis system)," Bradley said in an emailed response to questions from the US&J. 

A New York State Department of Education official confirmed that the agenda for the Jan. 14 meeting has not been finalized. 

Bradley later said, in a phone interview, that NYSED Chief Privacy Officer Temitope Akinyemi told her the state Board of Regents plans to discuss the law at its meeting.  

The New York Civil Liberties Union has asked both NYSED and the New York State Legislature to halt the district's surveillance project. 

When asked whether anyone from NYCLU had reached out to the Board of Regents, spokesperson Naomi Dunn said NYCLU is a member of the Data Privacy Advisory Council, which was formed by Akinyemi, and it has been involved in giving input on the formulation of new regulations for the education law section that deals with privacy.

In December, the school board adopted a policy to specifically deal with the Aegis software. 

Previously, Director of Technology Robert LiPuma said the policy, titled "Operation and Use of Security System/Privacy Protections," will govern two important additions to the district's security operation, the Raptor ID system and the Aegis facial recognition system. The Raptor ID system is more of a demographic matching system that checks someone if they are in the national sex offender database, whereas Aegis will look at faces to make sure they are not on the district's "unwanted person" list.

LiPuma said the systems will work together, adding that the district will be trying the systems out for a year and can fully define after a trial year what would be the appropriate routine audits.

Aegis will alert certain district officials when the system recognizes a person on the district's unwanted list. 

Those expected to be on the unwanted list may include: students who have been suspended, staff suspended or on administrative leave, level 2 or 3 sex offenders, any person who has been notified that they may not be on district property, anyone prohibited from entry to district property by court order or anyone believed to pose a threat.

Parents will be notified when their child's photo is placed in the system during periods of suspension and any other circumstances, and the photo will be removed once the suspension has ended or the circumstance has been considered resolved. Security databases will be audited from time to time to ensure all the images maintained fall within the categories set in the policy.

The policy's section on privacy says that the cameras only capture images and the images are stored for no longer than 60 days, unless the information is part of an investigation or retained in conjunction with a log of security alerts.

Retention of information for more than 60 days must be directed by a districtwide or building-level administrator and reported to the superintendent, the policy says.

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