The New York State Office of Information Technology Services (ITS) has determined that, when it comes to the use of facial recognition technology for security in schools, the “risks may outweigh any documented benefits.”
The New York State Education Department released a statement with a link to the ITS report on Monday, saying that “the State Education Commissioner will consider the report and its recommendations in determining whether to authorize the purchase or utilization of biometric identifying technology in public schools.”
State Assembly member Monica Wallace, D-Lancaster, said the ITS report validated her concerns about the technology. Wallace in 2020 co-wrote the legislation that led to a statewide moratorium on the use of biometric identifying technology in schools, pending a state study of the implications, and when the moratorium was signed into law, Lockport City School District was required to shut off its newly acquired, $2.7 million facial and object recognition-based camera system.
Concerns about the technology, expressed by Wallace and New York Civil Liberties Union among others, include invasion of privacy, an environment of surveillance and the technology’s shortcomings in accurately identifying females and people of color.
“I questioned whether the use of this particular very expensive and potentially dangerous technology is the best way to keep students safe,” Wallace said on Tuesday. “There are other, more proven ways like hardened doors and resource officers that are better vehicles for making sure that kids are safe in school.”
The ITS report echoes those concerns and suggests facial recognition technology has limited value as a security tool.
“Many claims have been made about the potential of FRT security systems to make schools safer, but little information is available about real-life situations where technology detected and helped prevent violent incidents,” the report says. “It is noteworthy that, regardless of the type of technology used, a school’s staff must have some type of forewarning that an individual should not be allowed access to a school for any technology to be effective.”
The Lockport district to date has been the only public school district in New York state to employ facial recognition technology for security purposes.
The district applied for and received a grant of $4.2 million through the state Smart Schools Bond Act of 2015 and spent $2.7 million of it on an Aegis software-powered facial and object recognition system operated through security cameras. The system went “live” in January 2020, with NYSED’s approval, and in June 2020, the Civil Liberties Union sued NYSED in an attempt to get that approval overturned. That suit was made moot by the moratorium.
Now that ITS has delivered its assessment of biometric identification technology in schools, Wallace said she’s reading the report with an eye on possible follow-up legislation to outlaw use of the technology for security purposes in public schools.
Meanwhile, Lockport district superintendent Mathis Calvin III said administration has “no plans to move forward with utilizing biometric identifying technology in our schools.”
The ITS report states that there’s less risk involved in the use of facial recognition technology for purposes other than system wide identification — which involves searching a database — such as opening a tablet. It also says other non facial recognition biometric identification technology, such as fingerprint reading, has been useful for scoring tardiness or lunch payment in other school districts, and the choice to use such technology should be left up to individual districts.