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State wants WNY school district to delay facial recognition software testing

Lockport City School District officials said the upgraded security system is about keeping people protected and saving lives.

LOCKPORT, N.Y. — On Monday, Lockport City Schools will become the first district in Western New York to use facial recognition software.

That news prompted some concern about student privacy -- and now the New York State Education Department is hoping the district delays the start of using the system.

The NYSED said in a written statement: 

"The Department is in contact with the District.  We have made it clear, the Department has not approved the testing of the system planned for next week and we told the District not to commence the testing of the technology until we receive information that assures us that student information will be properly protected."

School officials told 2 On Your Side over the phone that the state approved these plans a few years ago, as a part of the district's Smart Schools Bond application. 

The superintendent said they are not fully implementing the system at this point, but they do plan to proceed with the initial implementation on Monday.

Representatives with the district also said the cameras don't record, instead, they match faces and objects with what's already in the database. For this first phase that database is only made up of level two and three sex offenders. 

That means no student data is expected to be generated in this part of the process. 

The superintendent said this is about saving lives and keeping people safe.

However, Jeremy Finn, a distinguished professor at the University at Buffalo who has done extensive research on school security, told 2 on Your Side there could be negative impacts. 

Finn explained, "The broadest generalization I can draw about expensive security measures is that it's all done by opinion and fear, but not by any hard data."

Representatives with the district said in general, they've had support from the community.

School officials told us they plan to fully cooperate and communicate with the state.

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