The New York Civil Liberties Union and a local security consultant are exchanging barbs regarding the Lockport City School District’s new high-tech security system, which includes facial recognition software.
In a report this week, the NYCLU said the system may not enhance security, but may endanger the privacy of staff and students.
Orchard Park security consultant Tony Olivo, who works with Lockport and other school districts, denounced the NYCLU for spreading what he called “false information” about the system.
Classes begin Wednesday, but installation of the $3.3 million worth of equipment has not yet been completed.
Also, Superintendent Michelle T. Bradley said, the district has yet to adopt “protocols” to govern how the images gathered by its cameras will be used.
The NYCLU, which in June unsuccessfully tried to get the state Education Department to withhold funding for the project, said the district’s lack of a policy for using the data makes it possible that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, among other agencies, might receive information about children.
“The faces of our children, parents and teachers should not be continually scanned and uploaded to a database, especially not one that may be shared with law enforcement agencies including ICE for enforcement purposes,” the NYCLU said in its online report.
“This information about ICE? That’s false. This information about 4-year-olds being in a database? That’s false,” Olivo said. “That’s got nothing to do with the way this system works, but it’s allowed to be put out there and be taken as being truthful.”
“The extent to which any security camera data will be shared with law enforcement agencies will be addressed in the final protocols, will be guided by the interests of safety and security within the district and will be consistent with all applicable laws,” Bradley said.
“It is clear that the Lockport School District should have been more transparent with parents, students and teachers about how this technology works and how they would take steps to safeguard privacy rights and the learning environment,” NYCLU spokeswoman Naomi Dann said.
The NYCLU filed a massive Freedom of Information Law request with the Lockport district to generate material for its report.
“The answers we received do not satisfy our concerns,” Dann said. “It is not clear from the material released that there are protections in place to prevent data about students, parents or anyone else in the school from being shared with law enforcement agencies, including immigration authorities.”
The district, using state aid from the 2014 Smart Schools Bond Act, chose SN Technologies, a Canadian company, to supply a $3.3 million system called Aegis, including facial recognition and shape recognition software.
Lockport has been using security cameras in its schools for more than a decade, but the new system adds about 300 new digital cameras in the district’s 10 buildings.
The large number of cameras allow for multiple viewing angles, enhancing the system’s ability to detect whether someone is trying to bring in a weapon, or whether a person on a list of undesirables is entering.
This summer, the district hired U.S. Security Associates on a one-year, $86,000 contract to supply personnel for the control room at the high school to monitor the cameras.
Bradley said Friday that installation will not be complete until late September.
“However, the facial recognition system will not go ‘live’ until some point thereafter, and only once the district has finalized and adopted the relevant protocols and has adequately tested the system,” Bradley told The Buffalo News in an email.
“This is a complicated issue, and one of the concerns we have is the effectiveness of facial recognition software,” said Stefanie Coyle, NYCLU education counsel.
Testing around the world has shown that commonly used facial recognition software frequently produces false identifications. Also, studies have shown that the available software works best in identifying white males, with less accurate results for women, children and people of color.
“This system is extremely accurate, and facial recognition is a great tool as part of an overall security suite,” Olivo said.
Bradley said the software “can be populated with images of individuals, such as expelled students and sex offenders, as well as objects, such as handguns.”
“Who’s on that list?” Coyle asked. “How is that list formulated? Can you get off it? What if there’s a mistake?”
“The district retains full control over what images are entered into the Aegis database,” Bradley responded, “and the district continues to evaluate the standards that will be adopted for determining the scope of the data that will be entered into the database.”
The system retains camera images for 60 days.
“Bringing this invasive technology into the classroom opens up the possibility that innocent students will be misidentified and punished for things they did not do,” the NYCLU report said. “It could turn our school environment from one of learning and exploration into one of suspicion and control.”