No facial recognition technology yet for Lockport Schools

VIDEO: Demonstration of controversial technology

Mike Baggerman
September 03, 2019 - 5:40 am

An example of facial recognition software technology. Photo courtesy of Tony Olivo

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LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WBEN) - Lockport City Schools will not begin the school year using controversial facial recognition software.

The technology would allow the school to identify threats at their school. It keeps a database of sex offenders and people who are deemed a threat to the school by law enforcement.

"The system has no definitive start date at this time at this time, and we will continue to engage in an interactive dialogue with New York State Education Department officials," Lockport City School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley told WBEN in an email.

According to the Lockport Journal, Bradley announced in May that the school district would begin its "initial implementation phase". The cameras cost the district $1.4 million through a state grant. 

Lockport Schools is using Aegis software that was created by a Canadian-based company.

New York State Education Department officials said they're still working with the school district on the software implementation, but haven't given them the green light to do so.

"Department staff has consistently communicated to the District that they should refrain from the use of the facial recognition technology until proper protocols and protections are in place and has not deviated from that position," a NYSED official said. "The review is a collaborative, ongoing process and no timeline has been established for its conclusion at this time."

The Board of Regents have discussed regulations which will adopt a standard for data privacy and security for all schools.

Tony Olivo, the owner of CSI Group in Buffalo, said schools all across the United States utilize facial recognition technology and clarified misconceptions about it.

"It's much more than just facial recognition," Olivo said. "In addition to identifying unwanted individuals or individuals that would be prohibited from being on school property, the system also identifies firearms in hand. We're able to identify a gun in someone's hand in real time and, if need be, dispatch police and send alerts to police. There's a lot more to this than just normal facial recognition system."

He said the technology doesn't record faces and the technology doesn't put people's identity in the database unless they're specifically barred from school property.

"It is a closed database," he said. "This technology doesn't record movement...The schools already have that...This technology merely looks at the stream of video prior to it getting to the recording device and identifies people who are prohibited from being on school property or weapons on hand."

WATCH: Tony Olivo demonstrates facial recognition technology

Olivo said schools aren't the only organizations that use the software. Other groups that use the technology include retail companies, banks, churches, hospitals, and more.

He said people's fears about privacy tend to lower once they're more educated about the systems they use. He said once state education leaders get an understanding of how the technology works, their fears will be lessened.

"You have cars that are hazardous to be on the road because of recalls and you have some that there's no problems at all," he said. "You don't just take the cars off the road that are able to be operated without recalls or dangerous situations. To lump everything into one category is a little problematic, especially when you have state-of-the-art technology that stands alone like the Aegis system."

Most school districts in Western New York begin classes on Wednesday.

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