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Cuomo signs bill barring facial recognition systems in schools

Cuomo signs bill barring facial recognition systems in schools

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Lockport High School

Lockport High School on Lincoln Avenue in Lockport.

The use of facial recognition security systems in New York schools is now illegal, after Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a temporary ban on their use Tuesday.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace, D-Cheektowaga, would require the Lockport City School District to turn off the 300 digital cameras it installed to feed images to facial recognition software in its buildings.

The district won state Education Department approval for the system late last year and activated it Jan. 2.

The new law temporarily blocks the use of what it calls "biometric identifying technology" in all schools  public, nonpublic and charter.

In the meantime, the law orders the Education Department to conduct a detailed study on the appropriateness of the systems and how civil liberties can be protected while using them.

The law prohibits the department from approving any such system until July 1, 2022, or when the report is complete, whichever is later. According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which opposes facial recognition security systems in schools, they have been approved in 11 other districts.

Wallace said she has doubts about the technology's accuracy, cost and effectiveness, as well as questions about the privacy of the scanned images and who would have access to them.

monica_wallace (copy)

Monica P. Wallace

"I'm happy to see the governor agreed with my concerns," Wallace said.

"Facial recognition technology could provide a host of benefits to New Yorkers, but its use brings up serious and legitimate privacy concerns that we have to examine, especially in schools," Cuomo said in a news release.

The study will address the use of the scanned images and the technology's impact on privacy and civil liberties, as well as recommending rules for its use – if it is allowed at all.

"This legislation requires state education policymakers to take a step back, consult with experts and address privacy issues before determining whether any kind of biometric identifying technology can be brought into New York's schools. The safety and security of our children is vital to every parent, and whether to use this technology is not a decision to be made lightly," Cuomo said.

"There is a need for a deeper dive," Wallace said.

“New York should never dedicate funding to invasive and biased surveillance technology, and now many more school districts across the state will be blocked from deploying these harmful systems,” said Stefanie Coyle, deputy director for the NYCLU’s Education Policy Center.

"It's a shame that Lockport had to waste $2.7 million on this and it took a piece of state legislation to stop it," said Jim Shultz, one of four Lockport parents who sued the Education Department, with the backing of the NYCLU, contending the state approval of the system was illegal.

"The premise that you can identify a school shooter in advance, in real time, is just mythological," Shultz said. "And it's just an incredibly expensive system to use on students."

Studies around the world have shown that facial recognition software is most likely to match a live image to a stored photo when the subject is an adult white man. Although a federal study last year concluded the algorithm in Lockport's system works properly more than 99% of the time, the report said false matches are most likely to occur when women or Black people are being scanned.

Lockport used money from the state's Smart Schools Bond Act to reimburse its purchase of the Aegis system from SN Technologies, an Ontario company.

did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday, but in July, when the Legislature passed the bill, she blasted it.

"The District is profoundly disappointed by the adoption of this legislation," Lockport Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said in a prepared statement.

"The District’s implementation of enhanced security measures, including facial recognition technology, was specifically approved during November 2017 by the New York State Smart School Bond Act Review Board and by New York State Education Department Facilities Planning," Bradley wrote.

"Furthermore, the District does not believe that many of the concerns that have been expressed with regard to facial recognition are applicable to the District’s particular use of this technology, including with regard to the accuracy of such technology. The District continues to believe that its students, staff and visitors should not be deprived of the additional layer of security provided by the District’s facial recognition system. Nonetheless, the District will, of course, comply with applicable law," Bradley wrote.

This story has been updated to include comments from Superintendent Bradley.

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  • Updated

Changes to Lockport City School District’s facial recognition program are almost good enough to allow the district to use it, the State Education Department said Wednesday. In a letter to district Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley, the department said that if the district makes a few more policy tweaks to  prevent students’ photos from being programmed into the system, the

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