A New York state legislator is pushing for passage of her bill to place a statewide moratorium on the use of biometric technology in schools, as similar bills are pending in other state legislatures.
Last June, the New York State Assembly passed the bill introduced in March by Democrat Assemblymember Monica Wallace.
Concern about school shootings—and how to prevent them—has prompted district leaders to try different approaches, including the use of biometric scanners. But many parents have expressed concerns about whether their students’ privacy will be protected with the new biometric technology, which includes gadgets that scan eyeballs and record facial structures. And in 2018 the FBI warned about the student data being collected with this technology, among other ed-tech.
A companion bill to Wallace’s that was introduced in the New York State Senate by Democrat Brian Kavanagh is currently under consideration. If that bill isn’t passed by the last day of the 2020 legislative session, June 2, it would need to be reintroduced when the next session begins in January 2021.
While efforts are underway to block biometric tech, the Lockport City School District, 30 miles north of Buffalo, implemented a facial recognition system on Jan 2.
It is designed to single out people who have been matched to a “gun in hand situation,” as well as individuals whose names are stored in a database in certain categories, including level 2 or 3 sex offenders, suspended staff, and anyone prohibited from entry to district property, Lockport Superintendent Michelle Bradley wrote in a letter to parents and guardians of district students.
“This is new technology, and it’s unproven in many ways,” Wallace said in an interview with EdWeek Market Brief. “There have been studies that show that…the accuracy is just not where we would want it to be yet.”
There are potential discrimination and civil rights issues with the installation of biometric technology in schools, Wallace noted.
For instance, a 2018 study by Joy Buolamwini, a researcher at M.I.T. Media Lab, and Timnit Gebru, then a researcher at Microsoft, found that darker-skinned females are about 34 percent more likely to be misclassified by biometric facial recognition technology than lighter-skinned males.
Wallace’s bill would place a moratorium on the use of biometric identifying technology in schools until July 1, 2022, and direct the New York Department of Education to conduct a study on the use of biometric identifying technology on school grounds to create a “comprehensive, unified statewide regulatory system governing the use of such technology in schools.”
“It’s a moratorium, so that there could be stakeholders and people who are much more knowledgeable about this technology looking at this and making a decision as to whether the cost-benefit analysis is really there,” Wallace said. “Or are there better, less expensive ways to keep our children safe that are much more proven technologies with less risk?”
Wallace also noted that facial recognition technology requires the pre-loading of images of people thought to present a danger to the community, but most school shootings weren’t carried out by people who fit that description.
She said her bill has garnered support from New York Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and that the upper chamber’s Kavanagh plans to prioritize passage of his companion bill as well.
Kavanagh’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Wallace/Kavanagh legislation is like bills introduced in Florida, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts in recent years.
Florida in 2014 enacted legislation that, among other things, prohibits schools from collecting, obtaining, or retaining certain student information, including biometric information.
That law defines “biometric information” as data collected from the electronic measurement or evaluation of any physical or behavioral characteristics attributable to a single person, including the characteristics of his or her fingerprints, hands, eyes, and voice.
Further, legislation is pending in Pennsylvania that would prohibit educational entities and third parties from collecting biometric information on a student except as otherwise required by law.
And in Massachusetts, a bill that would ban the collection and storage of student biometric data, is pending in the state legislature’s Joint Education Committee. Rep. Aaron Vega, a Democrat, introduced the bill on behalf of a constituent, and he is not a bill sponsor.
Bills filed on behalf of a constituent usually don’t pass without official support from legislators, according to a legislative staffer.
Through her bill, Wallace said she hopes to encourage the use of public funds on technology that is proven and effective in keeping kids safe, and that she hopes to ensure “that we don’t use our children as guinea pigs on this new technology.”