Can biometrics prevent school shootings?
With politics complicating a legislative response to unregulated firearms, there is a push to pursue the fortification of schools with enhanced security, including biometrics.
Gun safes, barriers and facial analytics
Some believe the problem lies in securing school rifles. WYFF News reports that, in Oconee County, S.C., 18 schools are getting biometrically secured gun safes for secure storage of patrol rifles that can be accessed by school resource officers (SROs) more quickly than guns locked in their cars.
SROs have the exclusive ability to unlock the safes, using their fingerprints and codes.
In Brazil, which has seen a spate of school shootings, Fola de Sao Paulo reports there is enthusiastic support for more comprehensive building renovation and fortification, including new barriers, metal detectors and facial recognition systems.
In the 30 days leading up to April 17, more than 100 bills related to physical solutions were proposed in the legislative assemblies of 26 states.
Brazil has had nine school attacks in the last eight months. In the 20 years prior to that, there were only 13.
In the U.S., too, facial recognition is finding its way into schools. According to Oosto, which sells surveillance and facial recognition services, a system that uses facial scans to detect threats and persons of interest enables SROs to bypass identification verification and respond more immediately to system alerts.
Not everyone agrees that biometric monitoring is the best answer.
In 2020, the state of New York enacted a moratorium on biometric security systems. But many schools are wading into murky territory by pursuing grants to procure facial analytics tools.
In an Oosto site post, Chief Marketing Officer Dean Nicholls cites a report from the National Centre for Education Statistics that says nearly 80 percent of elementary schools and 94 percent of high schools already use cameras in their security systems. “Students are already being surveilled,” he writes. Of course, there is a difference between passive recording to which Nicholls refers and the active identification and monitoring of individuals with biometric surveillance.
According to an article by New York Focus reporter Rebecca Heilweil, despite concerns from some parents about bias, privacy and data misuse, some schools continue to file applications for state assistance to procure software that uses biometrics. Even some in the industry have flagged wobbly legal ground. Motorola Solutions, parent company of Vancouver, Canada-based Avigilon, a video surveillance vendor, claims to have had orders from four New York school districts. Executives have told state authorities that their software’s use of “appearance signatures” could violate local laws.
Without more active regulation, the requests for such technology will only increase. The question remains: Will walls, lockboxes and new ways to watch keep kids safe? Sadly, there will be opportunities to find out.