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In This School District, a Controversial Way to Flush Out Threats

Civil rights advocates say western NY system compromises student privacy
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jan 4, 2020 5:30 AM CST

(Newser) – An upstate New York school district has begun using facial recognition technology to look for threats, over the objection of civil rights advocates who say it compromises student privacy. The Lockport City School District said it activated the system Thursday after meeting conditions set by state education officials, including that no students be programmed into the system's database, per the AP. Superintendent Michelle Bradley says the Aegis system is capable of alerting staff to guns, as well as to individuals who pose a potential threat, including Level 2 or 3 sex offenders, suspended staff members, and people flagged by law enforcement or prohibited by court order. The district originally planned to include certain students, citing the February 2018 attack in which expelled student Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Those plans were scrapped amid privacy concerns raised by the New York State Education Department.

While facial recognition technology has made its way into airports, casinos, stores, and stadiums, it's so far rare in public schools. The western New York district is believed to be the first in the state to incorporate the technology in the aftermath of deadly mass school shootings that have led administrators nationwide to adopt security measures ranging from bulletproof glass to armed guards. The New York Civil Liberties Union said facial recognition technology infringes on students' rights just by scanning their faces in search of a match. Education department officials said they believe Lockport has satisfied their concerns about student privacy and data, but they've recommended the district consult with its lawyers to ensure individuals' civil rights are protected. Bradley says the system doesn't collect or store any personally identifiable or other information until a match is made and confirmed by school staff, who would receive an alert from the system.

(Read more facial recognition technology stories.)

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