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Facial recognition system now 'operational' for Lockport Schools

Superintendent Michelle Bradley posted an update on the technology, which had raised privacy concerns and added attention from New York State officials.

For months, the Lockport City School District continued to take steps toward using facial recognition technology in their schools.

Now the system is online.

In a message posted on the Lockport Schools website, Superintendent Michelle Bradley said, "the District has completed the initial implementation phase of the AEGIS system," later adding that "the AEGIS system became operational on January 2, 2020, in conjunction with the return of students and staff from recess."

Of primary concern in recent meetings was privacy. During a December Board of Education meeting, members reviewed the updated version of the district's security systems and privacy protection policy when it comes to the use of facial recognition software in schools.

"In order to address issues raised by NYSED, Policy 5685 provides that in no event shall a District student be placed in the AEGIS system database," Bradley wrote in the message on the district website.

She also stressed that parents should regularly monitor children's social media accounts and report any suspicious activity to law enforcement or school officials.

The New York State Education Department had previously sent a letter to Lockport Schools, saying that progress had been made in discussions about privacy concerns related to use of the cameras.

The letter also outlined four steps that it wanted Lockport Schools to take. Once those steps were completed, the state said its privacy concerns would be addressed.

The initial implementation phase of the project included camera adjustments, training and connecting with law enforcement.

2 On Your Side first reported on this in May of 2018.

"It will send real time alerts to a control center, and if that's verified that we don't these unwanted individuals, or unwanted items in our school, that will be broadcast to law enforcement," Bradley said at the time.

But a year later, the New York State Education Department said it wasn't convinced the district dealt with concerns about privacy and the security of data, so it recommended delaying the planned September 2019 launch.

Despite that, the district moved the launch up to June to test the system, before delaying it when state leaders and parents raised more concerns.

Later that month, the state banned the district from moving forward with plans to test it over the summer.

In August, the district made policy changes narrowing down the images kept in the database to four categories, including Level 2 and 3 sex offenders and anyone believed to pose a threat based on credible information.

It would no longer be set up to store images of suspended students, as originally planned.

"We believe in the initial policy that that category should have been in the policy, but the state education department is not comfortable with that and that's why it's been removed," said Bradley.

The system did not launch at the start of the school year.

The state still had concerns, and when we spoke with Bradley last month, she said, "We will adopt the policy in January, and then, when we are confident that the system is in a good place to put into operation, we will do that."

The district responded to our request for comment Thursday with the exact same statement posted on its website.

The state told us once again that it recommends the district work with its local counsel to make sure all laws and regulations are followed.

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