Schools eye facial recognition technology to boost security

The other day we talked about New York State’s move to begin installing cameras with facial recognition software at various bridges and toll roads. This led to quite a bit of feedback, particularly from privacy advocates, pointing out various shortcomings in the technology thus far. While there’s still plenty of room for improvement and new products are being rolled out regularly, some schools are investigating the possibility of doing the same thing to bolster security.

This is also happening in New York State right now, but it’s sure to be coming to other communities soon. The one school in Lockport currently looking into a trial run is well aware of the privacy concerns being raised, but feel that the safety considerations outweigh them. (Associated Press)

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.

Of course, the plan is already drawing fire from critics, including the New York Civil Liberties Union. (That’s the same group that was protesting the traffic cameras last week. They apparently don’t want anyone’s picture being taken.) The NYCLU is describing the plan as being likely to have, “a chilling effect on school climate.”

You know what else has a chilling effect on the school climate? Somebody coming in and shooting up a bunch of kids. And when the vast majority of the school shooters either would have passed every background check under consideration or obtained their weapons illegally, some extra privacy isn’t going to make the grieving families and friends feel much better.

Supporters of the plan are specifically citing the shooting in Florida this year as an example. When implemented, the software will have a list of students and staff who are supposed to be at the school. They will also be able to enter the faces and names of people who are barred from the school because they are potential threats. That will allow the system to ignore those who belong in the school, alert officials if a generic stranger is on campus or send up a huge red flag for security personnel if someone on the banned list is detected.

Are you seriously going to make an argument against this on privacy grounds? Sure, you might get some false positives, but that’s why you need trained resource officers who know how to evaluate the situation quickly and respond correctly. If you can have an armed officer already on the way to the scene before the potential gunman makes it inside, think how differently an otherwise devastating crisis might end. For everyone shouting about how we have to “Do Something” about school shootings and offering nothing but new gun laws which essentially only impact the law abiding, what say we lower the temperature of the conversation by a few degrees and just take a look at this plan. You might find that it makes sense.