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NYCLU criticizes Lockport schools' testing of facial recognition

The Lockport City School District intends to go ahead with testing of its new facial recognition security system this summer, Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said Thursday.

Even with testing this summer, the system probably won't be ready when school reopens in September, she said.

"We don't have a specific date for implementation," she said.

Eventually, the system will be loaded with photos of people on various banned lists, ranging from sex offenders to suspended students, and is supposed to trigger an alert when one of those people is caught on camera entering a building.

Critics say tests have shown facial recognition systems can be inaccurate, especially when analyzing subjects who are not white males.

"It’s troubling that the Lockport School District insists on moving forward with implementing intrusive facial recognition technology that often makes mistakes when identifying people of color, women and young people," said Stefanie Coyle, education counsel for the New York Civil Liberties Union.

"The district’s indication that it intends to use this technology on suspended students reveals that it cares very little about the privacy and civil liberties of its students," Coyle said. "Students of color, who are more likely to receive a suspension, will bear the brunt of this technology and could end up being subject to even more scrutiny. The legislature would be wise to pass the moratorium bill next session to ensure that more districts across the state do not follow in Lockport’s footsteps."

The district's plan was delayed by a month because of student privacy concerns raised by the State Education Department, as well as by the possibility the State Legislature might pass a law banning facial recognition systems in schools.

But despite its concerns, the Education Department isn't blocking the "initial implementation phase," which involves testing and training, Bradley said.

The bill by Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace, D-Lancaster, against facial recognition never was voted on in the Senate, though it passed in the Assembly.

"We did slow down on that," Bradley said. "Now, that there's no legislation that would stop the Lockport City School District from proceeding with  implementation, that gives us some leeway."

The plan is to adjust the dozens of digital cameras the district bought as part of the $1.4 million package, train district employees in responding to alarms and consult with local law enforcement agencies on how to handle intruders.

The district's costs are supposed to be reimbursed by state money from the 2014 Smart Schools bond act.

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