By Rebecca Heilweil
One upstate New York school district is delaying plans to implement the facial recognition component of a new, high-tech security system following public outcry and a request from state education officials to pause.
The Lockport City School District, which serves more than [4,000 students] (https://data.nysed.gov/profile.php?instid=800000041703), would have been the first public school in the U.S. to use facial recognition software.
"I don't think it's the right direction," Toni Smith-Thompson, an organizer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, told Cheddar. "I think facial recognition technology is the wrong direction for our schools. I think it's the wrong direction for us as a society to move down a path of increased surveillance."
The NYCLU first [reached out] (https://www.nyclu.org/en/press-releases/nyclu-statement-lockport-school-districts-implementation-facial-recognition) to the New York State Department of Education regarding its concerns over the application of facial recognition technology last year.
Facial recognition technology has been broadly criticized for being racially biased and threatening privacy rights.
A [message] (https://www.lockportschools.org/site/default.aspx?PageType=3&DomainID=1&ModuleInstanceID=10726&ViewID=6446EE88-D30C-497E-9316-3F8874B3E108&RenderLoc=0&FlexDataID=29583&PageID=1) from the district's superintendent posted online framed the technology as a protective measure against school shooters.
That post explained that the school planned to use the system — called Aegis — to determine whether a potentially threatening individual was on school premises. Such individuals would include level 2 or 3 sex offenders, suspended students and staff, someone banned from school property by the school or by a court order, and anyone believed to pose a threat to the school, based on "credible information."
"[T]he District is confident that the operation of the Aegis system complies with all applicable privacy laws," added the statement.
"I think it's tempting to want to use new exciting gadgets and tools in order to address or respond to pressing social issues," said Thompson-Smith. But she cautioned that it was unlikely the technology would even be effective during a school shooting scenario.
"Most school shooters have been students who don't have prior indicators or records that would keep them from the schools before those moments happen," said Smith-Thompson. "Instead we should be focusing on measures that we know work, like increased support for students, mental health support, counselors, creating actual safety and community in our schools."
Legislation has been proposed in the New York State [Assembly and Senate] (https://www.cityandstateny.com/articles/policy/technology/bill-to-halt-facial-recognition-tech-in-schools.html) to stop the use of biometric identifying technology, including facial recognition, in schools until studied more closely by the state department of education.
The district's efforts come amid growing skepticism toward facial recognition across the country.
Recently, San Francisco became the first city to ban the technology in its own municipal agencies (including the police), and shareholders in Amazon recently tried ([unsuccessfully] (https://cheddar.com/media/despite-growing-concern-amazon-shareholders-reject-limits-to-facial-recognition-system)) to reign in the e-commerce giant's sale of its software.
And just last month, the House Oversight Committee [held a hearing] (https://www.c-span.org/video/?460959-1/facial-recognition-technology) to analyze the use and impact of facial recognition technology.
"We know the ways in which your password can be misused if someone hacks it and gets access to it. If someone hacks and gets access to your face, you cannot get a new face," Smith-Thompson added. "These are very serious concerns."