After a school shooting in Parkland, Florida left 17 people dead, RealNetworks decided to make its facial recognition technology available for free to schools across the US and Canada. If school officials could detect strangers on their campuses, they might be able to stop shooters before they got to a classroom. Anxious to keep children safe from gun violence, thousands of schools reached out with interest in the technology. Dozens started using SAFR, RealNetworks' facial recognition technology. From working with schools, RealNetworks, the streaming media company, says it's learned an important lesson: Facial recognition isn't likely an effective tool for preventing shootings.
Rapid advances and decreasing prices for facial-recognition artificial intelligence technology, fueled by an arms race of surveillance firms eager to dominate the educational market, have made systems that promise to end school shootings faster, cheaper and more available than ever. For schools with high-resolution digital cameras activating face recognition can be easy as installing new software. Trevor Matz, the chief executive of video system BriefCam, said there is increased interest in cutting-edge surveillance technology, including from schools. His company makes software that can recognize faces and filter video with search terms like "girl in pink" or "man with mustache," shrinking hours of footage into seconds. "Everybody we demo the product to immediately goes, 'Wow' and says, 'I want it.'
Kimberly Krawczyk says she would do anything to keep her students safe. But one of the unconventional responses the local Broward County school district has said could stop another tragedy has left her deeply unnerved: an experimental artificial-intelligence system that would surveil her students closer than ever before. The South Florida school system, one of the largest in the country, said last month it would install a camera-software system called Avigilon that would allow security officials to track students based on their appearance: With one click, a guard could pull up video of everywhere else a student has been recorded on campus. The 145-camera system, which administrators said will be installed around the perimeters of the schools deemed "at highest risk," will also automatically alert a school-monitoring officer when it senses events "that seem out of the ordinary" and people "in places they are not supposed to be." The supercharged surveillance network has raised major questions for some students, parents and teachers, like Krawczyk, who voiced concerns about its accuracy, invasiveness and effectiveness.
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.
In this July 10, 2018 photo, a camera with facial recognition capabilities hangs from a wall while being installed at Lockport High School in Lockport, N.Y. The surveillance system that has kept watch on students entering Lockport schools for over a decade is getting a novel upgrade. Facial recognition technology soon will check each face against a database of expelled students, sex offenders and other possible troublemakers. It could be the start of a trend as more schools fearful of shootings consider adopting the technology, which has been gaining ground on city streets and in some businesses and government agencies. Just last week, Seattle-based digital software company RealNetworks began offering a free version of its facial recognition system to schools nationwide.