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.
With the wave of school shootings that have swept the U.S. in recent years, concerns about physical security and safety have overwhelmed parents, teachers and school administrators alike. Facial recognition technology, which would allow schools and law enforcement to quickly identify who is entering their schools and when could give school districts a powerful means to make schools even safer. Last month, RealNetworks, the streaming media company that garnered attention in the '90s and early 2000s for developing the first audio streaming solution, announced it would offer its facial recognition software, SAFR, for free to over 100,000 school districts. "School safety has become one of the top national issues in the United States in 2018," said Rob Glaser, chairman and CEO of RealNetworks in a press release. "We are proud to give our leading-edge SAFR for K-12 technology solution to every elementary, middle, and high school in America and Canada.
Civilian surveillance in China has seen a boom in recent times, with facial recognition leading the charge in the technologies used to keep tabs on the population. Police are scanning travelers with facial recognition glasses, authorities are using the tech to monitor ethnic minorities -- now the Orwellian technology has a new target: kids. Three cameras have been installed above a blackboard at Hangzhou Number 11 High School in eastern China. The system identifies seven different facial expressions -- neutral, happy, sad, disappointed, angry, scared and surprised -- to determine whether children are focused on their lessons, and if they're not, the computer will feed this back to the teacher. So far the technology is in just one classroom, but will roll out across the school by the summer.