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Lockport schools activate facial recognition system

A new year also marked the start of a new era for security efforts in Lockport's public schools.

The district announced on its website Thursday that it has activated its $1.4 million facial recognition system in all schools.

The Lockport Board of Education has yet to approve policy changes the State Education Department requested in late November. The Education Department, however, did not object to Lockport's move.

"Lockport has notified the department that no student data will be created or stored in their security system and that their district policy on security systems has been revised to reflect this," the department said in an email Friday.

The policy changes were presented at a Dec. 11 School Board meeting, but the board won't vote on them until Wednesday.

"I am pleased to report that the district has completed the initial implementation phase of the AEGIS system, and has also completed its related discussions with NYSED," Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley wrote on the district website, referring to the brand name of the security system.

"As a result, the AEGIS system became operational on January 2, 2020, in conjunction with the return of students and staff from recess. The AEGIS system, which includes gun detection and facial recognition, will be functioning as an additional security measure in all buildings," Bradley's post said.

The New York Civil Liberties Union, which has criticized Lockport's plans from the outset, objected to the activation.

"This approval process has been plagued with a lack of transparency and the public should have access to more information about the system," Stefanie D. Coyle, deputy director of NYCLU's Education Policy Center, wrote to interim Education Commissioner Shannon Tahoe Thursday.

Coyle said the Education Department "should not allow Lockport’s students, teachers and community members to be test subjects for inaccurate and invasive technology."

Federal government studies show facial recognition software often doesn't work as designed, with results on anyone other than adult white males being particularly inaccurate.

The district "is confident with the policy regarding privacy concerns and application of the system," Bradley said.

She noted that images of school security personnel and local law enforcement officers will be programmed into the system so there's no confusion "in the event of an active shooter."

"The AEGIS system will not be used for student disciplinary purposes," the revised policy states, in compliance with the Education Department's Nov. 27 letter to Bradley.

"With this revision to the district’s policies on its security system, the department believes that the Education Law issues it has raised to date relating to the impact on the privacy of students and student data appear to be addressed," a department spokesman said.

A total of 300 digital cameras in Lockport's 10 school buildings and the district office will feed images to the AEGIS software. The images are not supposed to be maintained for more than 60 days, unless they are needed for a continuing investigation, according to the district's policy.

If the cameras see a person whose photo has been programmed into the system as barred from the buildings, the system is supposed to send an alert to district administrators.

Those whose photos are supposed to trigger an alert include staff members on suspension or administrative leave, Level 2 or 3 sex offenders, anyone barred from school property by a court order presented to the district, and "anyone believed to pose a threat based on credible information presented to the district."

In close cases, Bradley has the final say on whether a person's photo is entered into the system.

"Following the verification by a person reviewing the image in the alert, the alert is forwarded to law enforcement via the alert system," the policy says.

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