Facial recognition, gun detection system implemented in Lockport schools despite controversy
A facial recognition system was implemented on January 2, 2020 in the Lockport school district in New York state, following ongoing debates with parents, guardians and the New York State Education Department (NYSED), reports WGRZ.
In May 2019, parents and guardians were informed about the implementation of the Aegis system, writes superintendent Michelle T. Bradley, system which became operational following an initial implementation phase and once privacy concerns were addressed. Under District Policy 5685 (“Operation and Use of Security Systems/Privacy Protections”), students will not, under any circumstances, have their information added to the Aegis database.
Aegis consists in 300 cameras, servers and software which cost the district $1.4 million. The system has been installed in the district office and ten school buildings, at a total cost of $3.8 million.
“The Aegis does not track people unless they have been matched to a gun in hand situation,” Bradley says, further explaining that the people placed in the database are “level 2 or 3 sex offenders, staff who have been suspended and/or are on administrative leave, anyone prohibited from entry to District property by court order presented and approved by the District, or anyone believed to pose a threat based on credible information presented to the District by law enforcement or will be reported to law enforcement by the District.”
The Aegis system is an advanced measure for building security. It uses biometric facial recognition technology and gun detection to detect and categorize threats. The facial recognition feature immediately notifies the school about unauthorized people on school grounds. The confirmation process involves a human monitor. If a match for a gun is confirmed, the police are alerted and the school is placed in lockdown. Unless a match is confirmed, the system does not collect or store any personally identifiable information. CCTV video footage is deleted after 60 days. Images are added and kept only in case of a threat.
The use of facial recognition in schools and its effect on privacy were addressed in a number of meetings with the Board of Education, reports WGRZ, who reviewed last month the security systems and the privacy protection policy.
According to a letter from NYSED, Lockport schools had to take four steps to address privacy concerns during the first one-year implementation stage which included camera adjustments, training and communication with law enforcement. NYSED was not convinced and recommended delaying the project, which was planned to go live in September 2019.
The initial implementation was planned for June, yet more questions were raised by officials and parents, so test plans were banned for the summer. More changes were made in August regarding database images and the type of people included, removing images of suspended students.
“We believe in the initial policy that that category should have been in the policy, but the state education department is not comfortable with that and that’s why it’s been removed,” said Bradley.