Last year, New York State placed a moratorium on the purchase or use of any “biometric identifying technology” in a New York school until at least July 2022. This means no school can purchase or use this technology. If you think your school is violating the new law, please contact us at schools@nyclu.org.

The law also requires the New York State Department of Information Technology Services to conduct a study in partnership with the New York State Education Department on whether and under what conditions such technologies, including facial recognition technology, should ever be used in schools.

What is biometric identifying technology?

Q.What is biometric identifying technology?
A.

The term covers a wide range of technologies that identify a person by their biological, physical, or behavioral characteristics, such as their face, fingerprints, hand, eyes, voice, or even the particular way they walk. You may have heard of facial recognition technology, retina scans, palm scans or voiceprints—these are all examples of biometric identifying technology.

What are the problems with facial recognition technology?

Q.What are the problems with facial recognition technology?
A.

Accuracy and Bias
Facial recognition is notoriously inaccurate. The technology commonly misidentifies people of color, women, and children. Facial recognition cameras work by comparing images to a database of photographs – often mugshots. Because these databases often include disproportionate numbers of young men of color, this can help contribute to high misidentification rates and racial bias.

This creates an unfair and unnecessary risk of false identification for students of color, who are already far more likely to be targeted by the criminal legal and school discipline systems.

Privacy
Biometric identifying technology systems infringe on the privacy rights of students, parents, and staff, by turning their movements into evidence of an infraction or a crime. Getting flagged by one of these systems could lead to unfair interrogations of students based on who they associate with, which could violate their First Amendment rights. These systems also can be combined with databases used for immigration enforcement. This means students could get targeted by immigration authorities, putting themselves and their families at risk of deportation or other consequences.

Student biometric information is clearly protected by both federal and state privacy laws. The use of this technology raises concerns about how this information will be maintained, who will have access to it, and how it will be shared, including any connection to law enforcement databases.

Hacking
A person’s biometric information 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, and there have been many documented instances of hacking in school districts across New York State.

Why was this moratorium passed?

Q.Why was this moratorium passed?
A.

This law was a direct response to the Lockport City School District’s use of state funding through the Smart Schools Bond Act to purchase facial recognition technology to use in its schools. Lockport purchased facial recognition technology in 2018 with the intention of using it on their students. The district did so without adequate community input and without studying the safety and student data privacy implications of using this technology in a school setting.

The law mandates that the New York State Education Department and the New York State Department of Information Technology Services study whether facial recognition and other biometric identifying technology can be used in New York schools and what type of protections should be in place.

What does the study entail?

Q.What does the study entail?
A.

The law requires that the State Education Department complete a public report on the privacy implications of collecting, storing, and/or sharing the biometric information of everyone who enters school grounds, including children; the impact of this technology on civil liberties, civil rights, and privacy; and the risks of false identifications and whether they differ among demographic groups. The study must also examine the risk of hacking, the cost of the systems, and any connections between the technology and law enforcement. See all the requirements.

How can I get involved?

Q.How can I get involved?
A.

The law requires that the State Education Department – via public hearings and other outreach methods – seek feedback from teachers, school administrators, parents, and individuals with expertise in school safety and security, data privacy, student privacy, civil rights, and civil liberties, prior to making any recommendations regarding whether these sorts of technologies can be used in a school setting. It’s important for NYSED to hear from parents, students, and teachers across New York about whether they want this sort of technology in their schools.

You should call your local lawmakers and let them know how you feel about this issue: your state Assemblymember and Senator, your local member of the Board of Regents, and your local superintendent. If you are a teacher or school employee, make sure you tell your union how you feel. Finally, consider writing a letter to the editor.

How do I know if my school bought facial recognition technology?

Q.How do I know if my school bought facial recognition technology?
A.

You should ask. As a parent, student, or employee of the school, you have the right to this information. If they won’t tell you, you can file a Freedom of Information Law Request. If you can obtain the school’s code of conduct or privacy policy, see if it contains information on existing security or surveillance systems – particularly video surveillance technology. This could help determine whether facial recognition technology is in use.

You can also ask for procurement and vendor information. Your school district may have announced the program at a school board meeting and they may have even been required to seek public input. Check school board meeting minutes, especially for meetings in the summer when fewer people attend. Future school board meetings can be a good opportunity to ask your questions on the record.

You can also check this database; if your school district used funding from the Smart Schools Bond Act to purchase the technology (many school districts have), their application for funding will be listed.

What if I want more information?