Schools in New York state can no longer use facial recognition technology, the state department of education announced last week.
Education Commissioner Betty Rosa’s decision follows an August report from the agency’s Office of Information Technology Services that analyzed the pros and cons of using the technology in schools.
The report, required by an amendment of the New York State Technology Law, said facial recognition’s risks “may outweigh the benefits” for schools since there is little evidence that it prevents violent incidents on campuses.
The Office of Information Technology Services also cited studies suggesting facial recognition technology can have higher rates of false positives among many groups, including people of color, nonbinary and transgender individuals, women, older adults and children. Schools could also use facial recognition without parental consent, adding further complications due to third-party contractor involvement in potentially sharing data, the report warned.
Any schools in New York that have purchased products using facial recognition with funds from the Smart Schools Bond Act must discontinue its use, according to Rosa.
The Lockport City School District in upstate New York initially planned to implement facial recognition software on security cameras after the state Department of Education approved the purchase in 2017. As the state weighed privacy and security regulations, state officials halted use of new security technology, which could detect the faces of people considered a threat as well as guns. The system could immediately flag those perceived threats to police and trigger a lockdown.
But when it comes to other biometric identifying technology, such as fingerprinting, Rosa said the decision can be made at the local level.
“Schools must consider the privacy implications thereof; the impact on civil rights, if any; the effectiveness of the biometric tool; and parental input,” Rosa wrote in the Sept. 27 final decision.
Though the New York State United Teachers, a federation of more than 1,200 local unions statewide, has not responded to Rosa’s decision, the group had previously supported changes to the State Technology Law that eventually resulted in the report and this rejection of facial recognition technology in schools.
In a 2020 letter to the Education Committee of the New York State Assembly, the federation wrote it had concerns with the security of digital data from biometric identifying technology, including facial recognition.
The federation pointed to questions regarding how the data is used, how it is stored, who has access to this information, and whether students and staff would be made aware of this technology being used in their schools.
“This issue presents a host of complex issues that should be handled on a state-wide basis, as opposed to a district-by-district patchwork of policies,” the federation wrote.