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School biometric systems live in Ohio, NY school district asks to keep its running, but value questioned

Categories Biometrics News  |  Facial Recognition  |  Schools

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Facial recognition cameras performing real-time biometric identification and providing security updates have been deployed to “a handful of schools” in Cincinnati by local company Turnkey Technology, local outlet WLWT reports.

The system creates composite images for comparison with criminal databases, and stores data in the cloud, so live video could in theory be accessed by a security team or police officers, according to the report. The software can also track people by their clothes, and distinguishes not only between different people, but also different types of vehicles.

The cameras cost about $1,000 each, and schools are eligible for federal grants to help pay for them.

The purpose of the system includes preventing unknown people from entering the building, and helping to lock it down in the case of an emergency.

“A lot of people don’t even know that this technology exists right now. So when they see this it blows them away,” Turnkey President Eric Anevski told WLWT when asked how potential clients react when learning of the technology’s capabilities. Anevski also said that protecting students has been a focal point in his talks with school decision-makers Greater Cincinnati area, privacy has not.

Lockport City schools seek exemption

Lockport City School District in New York State has requested that a facial recognition surveillance system it has spent $3.8 million on be exempted from a proposed bill to temporarily block the use of the technology in schools, writes the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. The request is based on the district having already been through a process for satisfying state education regulator’s privacy concerns. The system was launched on January 2.

Assembly Member Monica Wallace proposed a bill in 2019 to halt all facial recognition projects pending a review by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), and plans to focus on the bill’s passage in the 2020 session.

A letter was sent to Wallace’s office by LCSD Superintendent Michelle Bradley. A spokesperson for Wallace acknowledged receiving the letter, but declined to comment on its contents. A Freedom of Information request for a copy of the letter has been sent to Wallace’s office and the Lockport City School District records access officer, and is being reviewed by legal counsel.

Security against shootings?

RealNetworks has learned that facial recognition systems in schools are unlikely to prevent shooting, SAFR Senior Director of Product Management Mike Vance tells CNet in a recent interview.

“The vast majority of school shootings are carried out by people that you wouldn’t necessarily put on a watchlist, that you wouldn’t be looking out for,” Vance says. “You have to know who you’re looking out for.”

CNet also points out that 54 percent of Americans surveyed last year by advocacy group ProPrivacy said they support facial recognition in schools.

Athena Security CEO Lisa Falzone said her company, which counts a school in Pennsylvania among its customers, focusses on detecting weapons instead, which helps avoid privacy issues.

Trueface CEO Shaun Moore, meanwhile, suggests more data is needed to draw a firm conclusion, but his company is also focusing more on weapons detection, in part because of privacy concerns with facial biometrics.

“I will point out that not all safety initiatives are tied to school shooters, and facial recognition is much more than that,” Melissa Tortorici, director of communications for Texas City Independent School District, which adopted the technology following a school shooting in 2010, said in a statement. “Saying that’s the primary reason we adopted facial recognition is not accurate.”

Schools in Texas City use technology supplied by AnyVision. The system has been used to enforce bans of people using threatening language, and to remove a student banned from a school campus.

Vance says that the technology is best viewed “as a school safety tool,” which can help with more day-to-day concerns like investigating fights between students and managing logistics.

Privacy advocates and others are concerned about the use of scarce educational resources on surveillance technology, however.

“For every camera system you’re buying, you’re not paying for counseling that might help that troubled youth figure out what’s going on in their lives,” Andrew Guthrie Ferguson, University of the District of Columbia law professor and author of The Rise of Big Data Policing tells CNet. “The $1 million is better spent on building an educational environment with a socio-emotional learning environment than a surveillance state.”

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