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March 26, 2021

After Moratorium on Biometric Tech in Schools, Families Seek Revocation of State Ed Approval for Biometric Surveillance

NEW YORK - Yesterday evening the New York Civil Liberties Union filed new papers in the New York State Supreme Court of Albany to continue its lawsuit challenging the State Education Department’s approval of a facial recognition system in the Lockport City School District.

“We believe NYSED’s decision to approve Lockport’s system in the first place was irrational, and since NYSED has not corrected its flawed interpretation of the state education law, we believe the Court must intervene,” said Stefanie Coyle, deputy director of the Education Policy Center at the NYCLU. “The New York legislature rightfully passed a law to address the use of biometric surveillance in schools, but NYSED’s misinterpretation remains and sets a dangerous precedent for how the department and state may act in the future. NYSED’s abdication of its responsibility to provide expert-level oversight to school districts and maintain standards that uphold the integrity of student privacy and safety has not yet been resolved.”

The state education department and the Lockport district previously filed motions to dismiss the NYCLU suit after the state passed and governor signed a law placing a moratorium on the purchase and use of biometric identifying technology in schools. In its motion to dismiss, the state wrongfully claimed that the approval it issued in 2019 that allowed Lockport to turn on its surveillance system was merely advisory and never intended as a final decision. 

“The Lockport facial recognition system managed to waste millions of dollars and invade student privacy at the same time,” said plaintiff Jim Shultz. “While it is good news that the new law has shut the system down, it is chilling that the state education department still thinks this spy technology belongs in school hallways.”

Since 2018, the New York Civil Liberties Union has fought the implementation of face surveillance technology in Lockport. In June 2020 it filed suit on behalf of Lockport parents Jim Shultz, Renee Cheatham, Teria Young, and Steven Allore to get the system shut down.

“Both Lockport and NYSED knew that face surveillance software is racially biased against people of color and proceeded anyway,” said plaintiff Renee Cheatham. “The state must ensure that technology equipment purchased by school districts should always be used for the education of our children, we need to always put them first.”

The facial recognition system procured and used by Lockport engaged in real-time collection, analysis, and retention of biometric information from each child in Lockport’s schools that passed by the cameras, which includes children as young as 5-years old. The suit argues that the collection and analysis of sensitive student data should require the District to comply with provisions of New York’s Education Law that afford a high level of security to biometric information.

NYCLU attorneys on the case include Beth Haroules, Stefanie Coyle, and Molly Biklen.

You can find materials on the case here: