Policy change eyed for Lockport facial recognition system

In an attempt to address privacy concerns raised by the New York State Education Department, the Lockport School Board is considering a policy change that would remove all students from a database tied to the district's new facial recognition system. 

State education officials have said multiple times that they don't want Lockport testing the system until they are sure privacy concerns for students are properly protected and that regulations are currently being worked on at the state level to deal with the issue. 

Superintendent Michelle Bradley said changing the policy to keep students out of the facial recognition database would help alleviate the state's concerns so testing can move forward. 

The proposed policy update reads as follows:  "In no event shall a district student be placed in the AEGIS system database, regardless of whether the student would otherwise fall within one of the categories set forth above." District officials read over the policy language on Wednesday. A second reading and a call for a vote by the board to accept the change is scheduled for the next regularly scheduled board meeting on Sept. 18. 

Several trustees expressed concern about the policy change watering down the system's capabilities. 

Trustee Edward Sandell said he believes the policy, through its multiple revisions, has been changed so much that now the district is "not getting the security that we think we're getting."

"It seems the capability of the system is 100 percent and we're getting about 10 percent," he added. 

Board President John Linderman said he has heard from "about half a dozen" parents questioning him about removing students from the policy. 

"There is some concern with some parents that we are compromising safety by removing this from our system," Linderman added. 

Trustee Leslie Tobin said this might be a necessary "baby step" to get people comfortable with the system. 

"Hopefully soon we will be able to use it at full capacity," she said.  

In an interview after Wednesday's meeting, Linderman, who has been serving for almost two decades on the school board, noted he has not seen an issue before where the state education department has approved something and then reversed course. 

"I'm disappointed that it has come to this," he said. "We did everything we were asked to do by the state education department, and the state education department has already approved this project. I think that's the most disappointing part, and now they're saying we don't want you to do that."

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has fought against the system since last year, said even with the removal of students entirely from the policy its concerns are not addressed. 

"Biometric surveillance technology is discriminatory, unethical untested, unsafe, and unfit for use in schools, and it is clear that after four unsuccessful attempts to draft an acceptable policy the school district does not take that seriously," Stefanie Coyle, the education counsel for NYCLU, wrote. 

Bradley said once the updated policy is passed she will send it to the state education department. 

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.

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.

Recommended for you