On Friday, June 14, FPF submitted a letter to the New York State Assembly and Senate supporting a well-crafted moratorium on facial recognition systems for security uses in public schools. FPF also cautioned against overly broad bans or language that might have unintended consequences on other security programs, including some that may include biometric technology.
The New York State Assembly is currently considering revisions to New York’s state education laws regarding biometric identifying technology in response to the adoption of a facial recognition system by the Lockport school district.
Specifically, FPF recommended:
- A targeted moratorium specifically focused on pausing the use of facial recognition systems for security purposes at public school facilities, rather than banning the use of all biometric technology prior to July 2022;
- Permitting the continued operation of existing biometrics systems that do not rely on facial recognition, such as fingerprint and palm-print systems, and requiring a review of these systems; and
- Analysis and reporting regarding the risks and benefits of biometric technology in schools. The report should include recommendations concerning both 1) the appropriate notice regarding the use of facial recognition systems; and 2) the appropriate level of consent applicable to such systems, if facial recognition technology is approved for future use.
FPF supports a moratorium to allow time for comprehensive study of the impact of facial recognition systems on school campuses. Our analysis of the risks and benefits of facial recognition systems suggests that an evidence-based review of widespread use of these systems in schools will likely find that the systems do not offer sufficient benefits when used for security purposes at public schools (as FPF Senior Counsel Brenda Leong discusses in this video). Although the desire to provide the highest levels of security and protection for students and school personnel is well-intentioned, it is unclear that facial recognition systems will actually make schools safer. Particularly in light of the costs of purchase, implementation, training, and maintenance, we believe the study is unlikely to find sufficient value or benefit in these systems to justify their risks and privacy impacts.
Schools may also face backlash from parents and staff who don’t want to be involved in such a system. For example, some parents who volunteer at school may wish to opt out of having their biometric information collected and stored. Although privacy best practices would require provision of an alternate method, any barrier to entry may decrease people’s willingness to volunteer or come to the school at all. For similar reasons, employees may also resist. Schools would thus incur additional costs to create alternatives for individuals who do not want to take part in a facial recognition system.
While FPF supports a moratorium on this technology, some provisions of the draft New York law contains broad language that may lead to unintended consequences. Facial recognition systems for campus security have triggered the immediate concerns, and that should be the moratorium’s target. Schools may implement facial categorization technologies in other ways that, if banned outright, would prevent or compromise current services to students. For example, schools may currently use biometric software that does not identify individuals but measures facial expressions, voice data, or gait analysis in order to help students in special education, occupational therapy, and physical therapy programs. If the ban applies broadly to all biometrics in all cases, it could unintentionally eliminate these services and programs.
Likewise, some school systems in New York have already purchased and implemented biometric systems based on fingerprints and palm prints for lunch-line efficiencies, attendance reporting, and other administrative functions. These systems are widespread throughout the country and have not typically presented high-risk factors for student privacy. Allowing these school districts to continue using these systems would prevent unnecessary costs of reverting to less-reliable technology, unless or until any risks are identified. Excessively broad language concerning biometric collection or use might even compromise the current practice of collecting the fingerprints of staff and other employees at public schools in order to run background checks, an outcome that would actually decrease student safety.
Instituting a moratorium on facial recognition technology in schools, while permitting continued operation of other existing biometric programs would mitigate privacy risks while creating time for the state to review the risks and benefits of biometric programs for students, teachers, parents, and others. The study should, of course, consider all aspects of biometrics use and make appropriate recommendations. By allowing existing programs to continue in the interim, schools could gradually make necessary changes without negatively impacting students or services.
Finally, if the study does find appropriate uses or justifications for facial recognition systems, we recommend that the current requirement to provide appropriate notice to those affected be expanded to require appropriate consent by school employees, students, visitors, and others who might be impacted. Establishing an express consent requirement and/or options to opt out are important for protecting individual privacy.
Other FPF School Safety & Privacy Resources:
- Video Playlist on School Safety & Privacy (animated video and interviews with FPF staff)
- Principles for Student Safety, Privacy, & Equity (FPF is a signatory along with 39 other organizations)
- Law Enforcement Access to Student Records: A Guide for School Administrators and EdTech Providers
- Disclosing Student Information During School Emergencies: A Primer for Schools
- FPF comments and testimony to Federal School Safety Commission
- Should Schools be Using Facial Recognition? (short video with FPF’s expert on biometrics, Brenda Leong)
- Accuracy of Facial Recognition (short video with FPF’s expert on biometrics, Brenda Leong)
- Privacy Harms with Facial Recognition (short video with FPF’s expert on biometrics, Brenda Leong)