The New York Civil Liberties Union wants New York State Education Department to block Lockport School District from installing new facial recognition camera technology in all of its schools.
Last month Superintendent Michelle Bradley told 7 Eyewitness News that the district is installing 300 new security cameras loaded with the new high tech software. The software recognizes people with guns, terminate employees, sex offenders, and suspended students. The software alerts school officials after the individual being on campus. Lockport School District is using money from the New York Smart School Bond Act of 2014 to pay for the installation.
“It will add another layer of security to what we already have,” Bradley said.
But NYCLU calls the software invasive and inaccurate. In a letter, NYCLU is asking NYSED to review its decision to approve the funds. The group also filed a Freedom of Information Law request to the district for details on how and where the software will be used. Also, NYCLU wants to know who will have access to the sensitive data.
“Lockport is sending the message that it views students as potential criminals who must have their faces scanned wherever they go. This will have a chilling effect on school climate throughout the district and sow distrust between students and school officials.” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU said.
The group believes the software is inaccurate when it comes to race and gender and it could misidentify and cause young people to be punished for things they did not do. The group also fears a third party could gain access to the information and potentially put children at danger.
Lockport School Superintendent Michelle Bradley released this statement to 7 Eyewitness News Reporter Justin Moore late this afternoon:
"Mr. Moore...The District would like to take this opportunity to clarify and affirm several aspects of the District’s implementation of the Aegis facial recognition program. First, by way of background, the District more than a decade ago installed security cameras at school building entrances and other areas on campus. The data from those cameras is stored for 60 days on a server in the custody of the District. The Aegis program will simply be an additional procedural step within the District’s existing camera security system. The District will enter into the Aegis program photographic images of individuals for whom the District may have a security concern, such as sex offenders or students who have been suspended or expelled. The Aegis program will then issue an alert to District representatives if any of the data recorded through the District’s security cameras matches the image of an individual entered by the District into the Aegis program. The Aegis program will not retain any of the security camera data unless an alert is triggered, and only then data relevant to the alert will be retained for a very limited period of time. Instead, just as currently, all data recorded by the District’s security cameras will ultimately be transmitted to a District-maintained server and stored for 60 days. The Aegis program will not change the nature, scope or storage of the data recorded by the District’s security cameras, and once Aegis is fully implemented no third party vendor will have access to that data. Aegis is simply a tool to better use security camera data to try to prevent threats to the safety and welfare of the District’s students, staff and visitors.
The District’s use of Smart School Bond Act monies for the installation of the Aegis program was approved by the New York State Education Department, and the District’s use and custody of the data recorded through the District’s security cameras remains subject to all applicable standards governing school district data use and storage. The District continues to be convinced that the installation of the Aegis program constitutes a wise use of a portion of the District’s SSBA funds, and that the program will greatly enhance the District’s ability to prevent threats to welfare and safety. The data currently recorded by the District’s security cameras must be manually reviewed, and its use is largely limited to responding to incidents that have already occurred.
The District was copied on a letter dated June 18, 2018 from the New York Civil Liberties Union to Commissioner Elia relating to the Aegis program, and the District will continue to monitor any further developments from the State Education Department."