First public schools in US start using facial recognition on pupils and staff

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An Upstate New York school district will turn on its controversial automated surveillance software that can detect guns and identify faces on June 3, 2019.

Lockport City School District was the first in the nation to install the enhanced Aegis camera system in its schools back in October 2018 and will now begin testing it.

The security system is intended to become broadly operational across the district’s high school, middle school and six elementary schools by September 1, 2019.

The Aegis surveillance system can identify guns in the video footage it records and cross-reference people’s faces against its security databases.

The controversial development has attracted pushback from local parents, privacy advocates and some legislators, who say it could invade students’ privacy.

The upcoming tests will represent ‘an initial implementation phase’ to allow school employees to be trained in the use of the system and to allow officials to make any necessary adjustments to the security setup before a full-scale roll-out, Lockport City School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley told The Hill.

District officials will also be working in tandem with local law enforcement officials in order to establish what procedures should be followed in the event that the Aegis system detects an individual or object of concern on school premises.

However, concerns over the implementation of the system remain.

New York State Assembly Member Monica Wallace, a Democrat, is pushing forward a bill that would effectively prevent the Lockport City School District from using the automated surveillance system.

Acknowledging the controversy, Ms Bradley noted that the system is ‘not something that is prohibited right now for us.’

‘We have a policy that intends to protect privacy,’ she added.

‘We have identified a small group of individuals who will be placed in a database.’     

The district is using a system developed by SN Technologies Corp., the parent company of Aegis, according to Motherboard.

Aegis has developed proprietary software that can be used to spot guns that might appear in video footage. 

On its website, the firm describes the tech as being able to be used ‘to alert school officials if anyone from the local Sex Offenders Registry enters a school or if any suspended students, fired employees, known gang members or an affiliate enters a school.’ 

Each client who chooses to install the system, in this case Lockport, is able to choose what information is loaded into its database. 

They may get material from local mugshot databases or use images of former students who are barred from campus.  

To get the system up and running, Lockport is installing or updating about 417 cameras across six elementary schools, one middle school, one high school and one administration building, Motherboard said.  

The school district used $1.4 million (£1.77m) that was allocated to it through New York’s Smart Schools Bond Act to install the Aegis system, the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal reported.

Its grant application details why it decided to move forward with bringing facial recognition tech to several schools across the district. 

According to Motherboard, the application said it wanted funds for ‘new cameras and wiring…to provide viewing and automated facial and object recognition of live and recorded surveillance video,’ plus ‘additional surveillance servers…to provide enhanced storage of recorded video and processing.’ 

KC Flynn, head of SN Technologies, told Motherboard that 20 other US school districts were considering moving forward with Aegis’ facial recognition technology. 

Once users build a database of potential security threats, the system is set up.

It scans each face and compares it with the database. If there is no match, the system deletes the face it just recorded, but if it finds a match, it sends a warning to the control centre.

Many say it could give schools a couple extra minutes of much-needed lead time if an unwanted person is on campus — especially if they are armed.  

However, critics say the vast number of school shooters are enrolled students, or  people who would not be in the database.

There is also no evidence of the system leading to safer schools.  

The New York Civil Liberties Union (NCLU) has also raised concerns around how the system could be biased against people of colour and women on campus. 

Additionally, documents have shown the district did not engage with the local community before they made the decision to install the system. 

The NCLU also pointed out that, currently, there is no way for the public to access data collected from the cameras, or find out which faces have been fed into the system.  

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