School district to trial face biometrics with no students in database

The Lockport School Board will trial a facial recognition system in an implementation that may not identify anyone, after announcing a decision to address privacy concerns by removing all students from the database used by its biometric security system.

The Lockport Journal reports that the changes were made in response to statements from multiple New York State Education Department officials that the system should not be tested until concerns about the privacy of students are fully dealt with, and any necessary regulations are put in place. The database will now include only individuals flagged as threats, such as sex offenders.

Superintendent Michelle Bradley said the policy change addresses the state’s concerns to allow testing to proceed, but Trustee Edward Sandell is among several trustees who believe the policy changes hamper the technology’s effectiveness at improving security.

“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,” the change reads.

Roughly half a dozen parents contacted Board President John Linderman with questions about the removal of students from the database, and whether it compromises safety. He also notes that in nearly two decades, he has not experienced a reversal from the state education department before. The department asked the board to pause its implementation in June, and the scope of the database has been changed multiple times.

Trustee Leslie Tobin suggested the measure might be a temporary necessity while people become comfortable with the system. The New York Civil Liberties Union said that the removal of students from the database does not address its concerns.

The plan could ultimately be stopped altogether at the legislative level, though the bill did not make it through the state senate before the end of the legislative session.

Valid Director of Identity Programs Kevin Freiburger writes in an industry insight blog for Biometric Update that the industry has a duty to educate the public about the value of facial recognition in schools and combat negative stereotypes. The industry might also consider building a more compelling argument for how identifying a school security threat will actually reduce the risk it poses.

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