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NYS education department now “satisfied” with Lockport City Schools’ facial recognition technology

Eileen Buckley/WBFO News File Photo

The New York State Education Department said Wednesday it will be satisfied with Lockport City Schools’ facial recognition technology after a few additional revisions are made to district policy.

In May, NYSED directed Lockport to delay implementation of the new technology due to concerns about student privacy, which also prompted an investigation by the New York Civil Liberties Union. The district moved forward with an initial implementation phase of its $1.4 million enhanced security system over the summer, but without the facial recognition component. And in September, the district told NYSED it had decided that no student data will be created or maintained by the system.

The school district initially wanted to use facial recognition to identify previously suspended students, as well as unwanted adult visitors like sex offenders.

In response to the September decision, NYSED Chief Privacy Officer Temitope Akinyemi sent a letter to Lockport City School District Superintendent Michelle Bradley dated Nov. 27 that details three further changes the district should make to its written policy in order for the state to consider its concerns about student privacy resolved.

The suggested revisions intend “to make it even clearer that students have been removed from the operation of the facial recognition system completely.” The letter also instructs the school district to communicate the revised policy about the technology to staff, parents, guardians and students.  

“With these additional revisions, the Department believes that the Education Law §2-d issues it has raised to date relating to the impact on the privacy of students and student data appear to be addressed,” the letter reads. “However, the Department recommends that the District work with its local counsel to ensure that all other applicable laws and regulations are met and that the civil rights of all individuals are also protected when it comes to the District’s use of technology.”

A NYSED spokesperson further confirmed to WBFO via email Wednesday that the state’s concerns about student privacy are “satisfied.”

The Lockport City School District said in a written statement provided to WBFO that the new NYSED revisions appear to be in line with its previous policy amendments and that they will be reviewed by the school board for consideration.

“The District will continue with the initial implementation phase of its enhanced security system (which includes staff training and system optimization), and will continue to evaluate the timing for full implementation of the object and facial recognition components of the system,” the statement reads. “The District looks forward to utilizing this available technology to enhance the safety and security of the District’s students, staff and visitors.”

Lockport is one of the first school districts in the country to implement facial recognition technology.

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