New York Education Department Blocks Funding for Facial Recognition Technology

By Michael Maharrey

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 29, 2020) – The New York State Education Department has blocked schools from using a state funding mechanism to purchase facial recognition systems.

According to the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Lockport City School District purchased a facial recognition system using state funds allocated through the Smart Schools Bond Act (SSBA). This program set aside $2 billion to “improve learning and opportunity for students” throughout New York. In an unannounced move, the education department changed SSBA application requirements specifically barring funds for the purchase of facial recognition technology.

The N.Y. Education Department website now stipulates, “The Review Board is not currently approving plans that include facial recognition technology or other similar self-learning analytic software.”

In an email, Deputy Director, Education Policy Center New York Civil Liberties Union Stefanie Coyle called the change, “huge.”

Without the SSBA reimbursement, we expect that school districts will forego inaccurate and biased biometric surveillance systems and instead invest in instructional technology that improves outcomes for New York’s students.

The NYCLU has been pushing the Smart Schools Review Board to stop approving proposals that include facial recognition technology and other biometric surveillance. This is part of a broader push to ban the use of facial recognition technology in New York public schools.

State Bill to Ban Facial Recognition in Schools

Last summer, the New York Assembly passed a bill that would put a temporary ban on the use of facial recognition technology in the state’s schools. Assm. Monica Wallace (D-Lancaster)  introduced Assembly Bill 6787 (A6787) and Sen. Brian Kavanagh (D-NYC) introduced the Senate companion bill (S5140).

The legislation would ban the purchase and use of biometric identifying technology, including facial recognition technology, by New York public and nonpublic elementary and secondary schools until July 1, 2022. The bill would also establish a commission to study whether biometric technology is appropriate for use in New York schools, and if so, what kind of restrictions should be placed on their use.

The Assembly passed A6787 by a 128-19 vote on June 20, 2019,  but it died in the Senate and was returned to the Assembly in January. Earlier this month, the Assembly amended the bill to change the expiration date on the moratorium to July 1, 2022 or “until the commissioner authorizes such purchase or utilization as provided in subdivision three [the report]… whichever occurs later.” In effect, the amendment extends the moratorium and ensures that if NYSED does not produce the report, districts cannot purchase or use facial recognition technology.

The Assembly and Senate bills are now in sync and are set to move forward in the legislative process.

The Tenth Amendment Center is part of a coalition of more than 40 organizations pushing for passage of this bill. In a statement, the coalition answered the question: what is wrong with biometric surveillance in schools?

“A person’s biometric identifying information (e.g., facial characteristics, fingerprints, voice) is highly sensitive and cannot be changed if there is a security breach. Collecting this data from children, parents, and teachers raises the risk that personally identifiable information may be hacked, shared, or sold. School districts are ill-equipped to safeguard this data. The lack of transparency and regulation around collection, storage, and use of this data—and the invasive, dragnet nature of biometric surveillance— puts our children in danger.”

Passage of A6787/S5140 would take the first step toward limiting biometric surveillance and facial recognition in New York. It would also hinder a federal program to create a nationwide facial recognition surveillance database.

IMPACT ON FEDERAL PROGRAMS

recent report revealed that the federal government has turned state drivers’ license photos into a giant facial recognition database, putting virtually every driver in America in a perpetual electronic police lineup. The revelations generated widespread outrage, but this story isn’t new. The federal government has been developing a massive, nationwide facial recognition system for years.

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The FBI rolled out a nationwide facial-recognition program in the fall of 2014, with the goal of building a giant biometric database with pictures provided by the states and corporate friends.

In 2016, the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law released “The Perpetual Lineup,” a massive report on law enforcement use of facial recognition technology in the U.S. You can read the complete report at perpetuallineup.org. The organization conducted a year-long investigation and collected more than 15,000 pages of documents through more than 100 public records requests. The report paints a disturbing picture of intense cooperation between the federal government, and state and local law enforcement to develop a massive facial recognition database.

“Face recognition is a powerful technology that requires strict oversight. But those controls, by and large, don’t exist today,” report co-author Clare Garvie said. “With only a few exceptions, there are no laws governing police use of the technology, no standards ensuring its accuracy, and no systems checking for bias. It’s a wild west.”

There are many technical and legal problems with facial recognition, including significant concerns about the accuracy of the technology, particularly when reading the facial features of minority populations. During a test run by the ACLU of Northern California, facial recognition misidentified 26 members of the California legislature as people in a database of arrest photos.

With facial recognition technology, police and other government officials have the capability to track individuals in real-time. These systems allow law enforcement agents to use video cameras and continually scan everybody who walks by. According to the report, several major police departments have expressed an interest in this type of real-time tracking. Documents revealed agencies in at least five major cities, including Los Angeles, either claimed to run real-time face recognition off of street cameras, bought technology with the capability, or expressed written interest in buying it.

In all likelihood, the federal government heavily involves itself in helping state and local agencies obtain this technology. The feds provide grant money to local law enforcement agencies for a vast array of surveillance gear, including ALPRs, stingray devices and drones. The federal government essentially encourages and funds a giant nationwide surveillance net and then taps into the information via fusion centers and the Information Sharing Environment (ISE).

Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”

Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.

Reports that the Berkeley Police Department in cooperation with a federal fusion center deployed cameras equipped to surveil a “free speech” rally and Antifa counterprotests provided the first solid link between the federal government and local authorities in facial recognition surveillance.

In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. Passage of state laws and local ordinances banning and limiting facial recognition eliminates one avenue for gathering facial recognition data. Simply put, data that doesn’t exist cannot be entered into federal databases.

Source: Tenth Amendment Center

Michael Maharrey [send him email] is the Communications Director for the Tenth Amendment Center. He is from the original home of the Principles of ’98 – Kentucky and currently resides in northern Florida. See his blog archive here and his article archive here.He is the author of the book, Our Last Hope: Rediscovering the Lost Path to Liberty. You can visit his personal website at MichaelMaharrey.com and like him on Facebook HERE

Image: EFF.org

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