NY schools eye facial recognition technology to boost security

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.
Already, the Lockport City School District’s plan has opened a debate in this western New York community and far beyond about the system’s potential effectiveness, student privacy and civil rights.

“We shake our heads that we’re having to deal with and talk about these kinds of security issues,” said Robert LiPuma, technology director for the Lockport district, east of Niagara Falls, “but here we are.”

The idea behind the Lockport system is to enable security officers to quickly respond to the appearance of expelled students, disgruntled employees, sex offenders or certain weapons the system is programmed to detect. Only students seen as threats will be loaded into the database. Officials say it is the first school district in the country to adopt the Canadian-made system it is installing.

Administrators say it could thwart shootings like February’s attack in which expelled student Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. “This would have identified (Cruz) as not being able to be in that building,” said Tony Olivo, a security consultant who recommended the system for Lockport. Cameras mounted throughout the building would have followed the banned student’s every move until he left