facial recognition camera

Face-recognition technology on test to secure NY schools

Image credit: Dreamstime

A New York school district is trialling the use of facial-recognition technology in schools, in order to help keep out potentially dangerous people.

Faces caught on cameras placed around the schools will be checked against a database of faces of those who are not allowed within the premises, including sex offenders, expelled students and employees who left under hostile circumstances. Schools will reportedly be able to choose how to respond to blacklisted people being detected on their premises.

The system is being deployed throughout the Lockport school district at a cost of $1.4m (£1.1m).

Lockport officials have acknowledged that the Aegis system, which was developed by Canada-based SN Technologies, will not in itself prevent attackers from entering, but describe it as one of many measures that could help keep schools secure.

The initiative follows a series of deadly school shootings this year, which have provoked outrage, activism and division. Gun control activists have been calling for tightening of US arms regulations – such as by requiring background checks for people with histories of mental illness before they can buy guns – while the pro-gun lobby has suggested alternative measures to protect students, such as arming teachers.

According to district administrators, the system could prevent high-school shootings like that in Parkland, Florida in February, in which an expelled student entered a school and killed 17.

“This would have identified [the gunman] as not being able to be in that building,” Tony Olivo, who recommended the system, told the Associated Press.

The New York Civil Liberties Union has criticised the announcement, saying that the technology is invasive, inaccurate and should be kept out of schools. The group has requested that the New York Education Department bans the technology from being introduced to any schools within the state.

“Lockport is sending the message that it views students as potential criminals who must have their faces scanned wherever they go,” Donna Lieberman, the group’s executive director, said in a statement.

Meanwhile, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a campaign group for digital rights, states that schools introducing the technology must consider how the system is managed, whether students are able to opt out and how the data is kept secure. The system will reportedly keep the database of faces secure such that it cannot be shared with third parties.

Ethical and technical issues have been raised regarding the rollout of facial-recognition technology in public places, relating to privacy, security of data, inaccuracy in identifying suspects and the failure of commercial facial-recognition systems to identify women and ethnic minorities.

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