Over the past few months, the public sentiment about facial recognition has shifted from neutral to against. This has been even more prominent in the public sector, as the public and employees alike have asked companies like Amazon to discontinue sales of their technology to the government. Despite these trends against trust in the government using facial recognition technology, Lockport City School District in New York has begun implementing facial recognition in their schools.
The plan is to use the recognition tech to identify issues before they arise, such as child predators and potential attacks. The district is the first in the country to implement the tech in schools and recognizes that, despite the possible benefits, there are some drawbacks, as well. Superintendent Michelle Bradley, said,
I would say for the Lockport City School District, while it's controversial, it's not prohibited and the most important thing is we believe we've established boundaries in the use of this. We have a policy that intends to protect privacy. We have identified a small group of individuals who will be placed in a database.
She is taking her guidance not from public opinion or potential social or legal obstacles, but instead from the fact that it is not expressly prohibited anywhere. Of course, despite not being prohibited, the technology allows for a lot of problems. The largest, of course, is the security of the database itself. For the technology to work effectively, it would require a whitelist of people who are permitted. That means a database of faces of children in the school district. A database like that, especially attached to controversial technology, is like a welcome mat for hackers and hacktivists.
There is also the issue that facial recognition technology is far from infallible. Apple and Samsung technology have been tricked by photos. In response to this criticism, the district's director of technology, Robert LiPuma, said,
We did have one incident where the board member came in and was identified on the first camera as the teacher and then it made a mistake, but it was an odd angle picture. But the second camera picked her up as who she actually was. It was actually a good test for me.
So, a single test was conducted, and it was tricked by a twin. Not a great start to the usefulness of this particular system. In addition to the privacy issues and technological hurdles, there will be legal issues to contend with. The New York Civil Liberties Union has already responded to the move, with education counsel Stefanie Coyle saying,
Facial recognition technology does little to protect students and poses serious risks for both privacy and civil rights. It is a shame that Lockport school administrators have decided to deploy this technology regardless of these concerns, making their students, parents and faculty into guinea pigs to test the use of this software in school contexts. We continue to believe that this type of invasive and inaccurate technology does not belong in schools.