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By: Kevin Freiberger, Director of Identity Programs at Valid
The New York State Education Department blocked facial recognition software testing in schools merely weeks before it was set to begin. This comes despite reassurances from the Lockport City School District that it would only enter the information of significant threats (like suspended or expelled students and sex offenders) into the system.
Fueling the final decision were protests from both concerned parents and the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU). Hesitations centered around the technology’s protocols and protections, and whether or not they were ready for a public sector environment predominantly populated by minors. The NYCLU went on to call facial recognition technology in schools an invasion of privacy, compromising the rights of students, teachers, families and the community.
But the Lockport City School District isn’t ready to back down quite yet. Discussions are still ongoing even after the news of the decision went public.
The school district has a difficult task ahead. However, convincing the public and parents of what those of us in the industry know to be true — that facial recognition technology has the potential to do a lot of good — is not impossible. In fact, with more educated rhetoric and open conversations, leaders in the space can debunk negative stereotypes and lead the way for future security solutions that can keep our children safe. First and foremost, that means reassuring parents that their children’s data is safe.
How much added risk is there in allowing schools to capture a photo for the sole reason of keeping children safe?
Parents are on-edge when it comes to their childrens’ personal information. And with applications like TikTok, Snapchat and Facebook, the number of tech entities that already possess children’s photos only continues to grow.
Without training and education, most people aren’t confident enough to know when they are putting their personal data at risk. The result? They default to rejecting anything that seems remotely “big brother.” Potential deployers of facial recognition technology must make it clear that the software does not exploit the personal information of students.
Well architected facial recognition systems segment the biometric data from personally identifiable information (PII) such as names, addresses, and source photos. This means the PII is stored completely separated from the biometric data. Without the personal information and source photos that identify the data sets, biometric data itself does not provide much value to cybercriminals.
And schools and other U.S. government entities are not using these systems for mass surveillance. Opt-in policies are critical and must clearly state where the photos are stored and who has access to them to quell any concerns about photos being shared with outside parties or used by other non-approved government agencies.
Facial recognition technology offers more value than just security
Beyond its role as a security solution, facial recognition also has the potential to add real value to antiquated aspects of the education system. Facial recognition technology can take attendance, act as a point of sale (POS) system in the lunchroom and provide added security at extracurricular events like dances and sports games. Explaining how facial recognition technology can significantly improve the quality of students’ experience, modernize educator routines by taking attendance and notifying parents when students arrive at school, is a great way to familiarize the community with the technology outside of the security landscape.
Not every parent has the luxury of working within the biometrics industry and possessing an intricate knowledge of how these systems work. So for those of us that do, it’s our duty to educate the public and provide a means of understanding the value this technology offers — like protecting our children as they sit in their classrooms. With careful and articulate explanations, we can all focus on providing more comprehensive solutions to keep our schools and communities safe and secure.
About the author
Kevin Freiberger is Director of Identity Programs and Product Management at Valid where he leads a team that builds and delivers large-scale identity management and biometric matching solutions to public and private enterprises.