This summer the NYCLU asked the New York State Board of Education to put the brakes on a controversial facial recognition system planned for Lockport City Schools.
The district is using state money through the Smart Schools Bond Act to purchase the system, which is being installed right now.
State Department of Education spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in a statement:
“The Department takes the protection of personally identifiable information very seriously. We are in contact with the school district to ensure they are aware of federal and state statutes that govern the protection of personally identifiable information and establish proper protocols. NYSED is unaware of any prohibition in the law that prohibits Smart Schools Bond Act funding to be used in this manner. However, in light of privacy concerns regarding the use of facial recognition technology in schools, NYSED is reviewing what best practices should be in place to ensure that personally identifiable information is protected in compliance with state and federal laws.”
Parents like Jim Shultz are worried the system will invade students’ privacy.
“I’m a dad. The most precious thing in the world to me walks through the doors of the high school every morning, so I care a lot about safety,” Shultz said. He just doesn’t think the Aegis facial recognition system is the solution.
His daughter is a sophomore at Lockport High School.
Aegis is made by SN Technologies, a company based in Ontario.
“The system looks at every face in a hallway, and it compares every face that it sees against the database,” said SN Technologies president, K.C. Flynn.
Who decides who is in that database is up to the district, according to Flynn.
Shultz isn’t convinced this system is going to keep his daughter safer, and feels the privacy risk isn’t worth the money.
“It doesn’t fit a school situation. It’s not going to stop school shootings. If some guy is running at that school with an AR-15, there is absolutely nothing about this system that makes us any safer,” he told News 4.
Flynn admits the software is not psychic. It can recognize a gun in a hand, but not buried in a backpack, he said.
However, he feels a school’s ability to keep out unwanted students or adults ahead of time is a big step forward.
Aegis was designed specifically for schools by SN Technologies. Lockport will be the first district to implement it.
Shultz wants to who will be allowed to view the data, and who decides which students are placed in the database.
“The district has absolutely no policy on this at all,” Shultz said.
He also expressed concern over the district’s transparency on this issue. He claims parents were not informed how the new system would be used.
News 4 reached out to the Lockport’s Superintendent Michelle Bradley for an answer. She did not respond to our specific questions, but issued the following statement:
“The Aegis system is in the process of being installed, and the District is likewise in the process of finalizing protocols in relation to the use and operation of the system. While the District believes that the system will be fully installed by the end of September, the system will not go “live” until some point thereafter, and only once the District has finalized and adopted the relevant protocols and has adequately tested the system.”
Flynn said Aegis cameras will only be in hallways and inside public areas. Not in classrooms or bathrooms.
“It only matches against people in the database or that the school district is looking for,” he said.
Anyone else’s face he said, the system doesn’t store.
Facial recognition software has been criticized in recent years for mismatching or targeting people of color. Flynn said Aegis is 99 percent accurate, and claims that accuracy is the same regardless of a student’s race.