For years, the Denver public school system worked with Video Insight, a Houston-based video management software company that centralized the storage of video footage used across its campuses. So when Panasonic acquired Video Insight, school officials simply transferred the job of updating and expanding their security system to the Japanese electronics giant. That meant new digital HD cameras and access to more powerful analytics software, including Panasonic's facial recognition, a tool the public school system's safety department is now exploring. Denver, where some activists are pushing for a ban on government use of facial recognition, is not alone. Mass shootings have put school administrators across the country on edge, and they're understandably looking at anything that might prevent another tragedy.
The facial-recognition cameras installed near the bounce houses at the Warehouse, an after-school recreation center in Bloomington, Indiana, are aimed low enough to scan the face of every parent, teenager and toddler who walks in. The center's director, David Weil, learned earlier this year of the surveillance system from a church newsletter, and within six weeks he had bought his own, believing it promised a security breakthrough that was both affordable and cutting-edge. Since last month, the system has logged thousands of visitors' faces – alongside their names, phone numbers and other personal details – and checked them against a regularly updated blacklist of sex offenders and unwanted guests. The system's Israeli developer, Face-Six, also promotes it for use in prisons and drones. "Some parents still think it's kind of '1984,' " said Weil, whose 21-month-old granddaughter is among the scanned.
San Francisco supervisors approved a ban on police using facial recognition technology, making it the first city in the U.S. with such a restriction. Facial recognition has enrolled in school. On Monday, a New York school district became one of the first in the U.S. to roll out facial recognition technology on campus using its students' faces as an added layer of security. The system of cameras can also be used to identify guns or flagged persons, such as expelled students and sex offenders, according to the school district. The Lockport City School District will pilot its Aegis system over the summer and will expand the technology to each of its eight schools before classes resume in the fall.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University that examines emerging technologies, public policy, and society. With another deadly massacre on the school shooting tally board-- the third in a week, the 22nd this year, according to CNN's parameters--at least one school district is focusing on making schools safer. The only issue is, it's missing the issue. The upstate New York district of Lockport is introducing facial recognition and tracking software to its school security systems, the same kind of software used in airports and casinos. Individual students won't be programmed into the system unless "there's a reason," reports the Buffalo News, but people who are "known" threats will be, with the program alerting district officials if a recorded individual comes within range of the school cameras.
The New York Legislature has passed a two-year moratorium on the use of facial recognition in schools. The ban approved by the House and Senate on Wednesday follows an upstate district's adoption of the technology as part of its security plans and a lawsuit from civil rights advocates challenging that move. The legislation would prohibit the use of biometric identifying technology in schools until at least July 1, 2022, and direct the state's education commissioner to issue a report examining its potential impact on student and staff privacy and recommending guidelines. The Lockport Central School District activated its system in January after meeting conditions set by state education officials, including that no students be entered into the database of potential threats. Schools have been closed since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.