August 17, 2023

NY State Report Warns Facial Recognition In Schools Could Cause Civil Rights Issues

Black Students

A new state report has advised New York schools to be cautious when using facial recognition and other identifying technology. 

Some risks outlined in the report include biometric data breaches, mistaken identification through facial recognition flaws, and students being turned away from school because of technological errors.

The report was based on a survey sent to every school administrator in the state and other interested parties. It was also open to the public, teachers, parents and students.

The use of facial recognition in schools

In January 2020, Lockport City School District became the first in New York to employ facial recognition technology (FRT) in schools and used state funding to do so.

Following a lawsuit, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) banned the use of biometric identifying technology in schools until the state prepared a report on the technology and the issues connected with it. That report has now been released.

The report noted that facial recognition technology can be used in schools to verify students’ identities for online courses and tests. It also has the potential to measure how engaged students are, going as far as scanning for facial expressions that might show when a student is bored or frustrated. 

The report claims that “FRT can also be used for administrative purposes, such as paying for lunches; monitoring student and staff attendance; checking out library books; verifying that students are on the right bus; or unlocking a device, such as an iPad or a computer.”

The use of digital fingerprinting may also have fewer risks associated with it than FRT and have more benefits for services such as school lunch payments, it claims.

Risks for students of color

The report said that schools using biometric identifying technology may need to create policies around such use.

“The use of FRT could have a negative effect on student intellectual development and behavior,” the report said. “This type of surveillance has been shown to erode student anonymity and impact how students behave and think of themselves, potentially becoming detrimental to students’ social and emotional well-being in educational settings.”

The report also highlights issues like the potential for facial recognition technology to have higher rates of false positives for people of color. False positives occur when the person is erroneously matched with the stored Biometric IdentificationTechnology (BIT) data of another individual.

Read: Brazil’s Embrace Of Facial Recognition In Schools Is Worrying Its Black Communities

These can amplify the consequences of racial biases in districts like Lockport, where Black students are disproportionately disciplined. In the 2015-16 school year, 25% of suspended students in the district were Black. This was although the enrollment of Black people was 12%, according to federal Department of Education data. 

The report cites Lindsey Barret, staff attorney at Georgetown University Law Center, that if shared with law enforcement, facial recognition technology could mean earlier exposure to the criminal justice system for students.

Racial biases in facial recognition technologies

In December, the federal government released a study that found most commercial facial recognition systems showed racial bias. The majority falsely identified African-American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more than Caucasian faces. A separate federal study found a higher rate of false matches among children.

If the technology disparaged any protected groups, such as race, national origin or age, schools that receive federal funding could be penalised.

According to Buffalo News, the State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa is expected to decide on the purchase of biometric identifying technology in public schools within the next few weeks.

Sara Keenan

Tech Reporter at POCIT. Following her master's degree in journalism, Sara cultivated a deep passion for writing and driving positive change for Black and Brown individuals across all areas of life. This passion expanded to include the experiences of Black and Brown people in tech thanks to her internship experience as an editorial assistant at a tech startup.