New York's Stance Sets a Precedent for Biometric Tech, Student Privacy

In a significant move, the New York State Education Department has decided to prohibit using facial recognition technology in schools. However, schools will still have the authority to determine whether or not to adopt other types of biometric-identifying technology.

This decision by Education Commissioner Betty Rosa was prompted by a state report highlighting the need for caution in the ever-evolving field of biometric identification technology. The report, released in August, urged schools in New York to be mindful of the potential risks associated with these technologies.

While the NYSED has permitted the use of other biometric technologies, it has clarified that facial recognition has no place in the classroom. This stance has been commended by organizations such as the New York Civil Liberties Union, who voiced their concerns and appreciation for the ban on facial recognition technology in a social media post.

Importantly, this ban applies to all schools, whether public or private.

Commissioner Rosa's decision was informed by the findings of the August report, which highlighted the issues surrounding facial recognition technology. One of the main concerns is the higher rate of false positives regarding people of color, women, and nonbinary and transgender individuals. These concerns ultimately outweigh any potential benefits of using facial recognition in schools.

It is worth noting that the concerns associated with other commonly used biometric identifying technologies, such as fingerprint identification, are minimal and even beneficial in some cases.

The History of Facial Recognition, Biometric Technology

Facial recognition technology, or biometrics, is a form of automated identity verification based on physical or behavioral characteristics such as facial features and iris patterns. It's used to recognize individuals and is becoming increasingly popular for access control, surveillance, border security, and marketing.

The earliest facial recognition systems were developed in the early 1970s. This technology, known as "anatomy-based facial recognition," used a mathematical algorithm to compare facial features and determine whether two images were of the same person. While this technology was fairly accurate, it was also slow and cumbersome, making it less useful in real-world applications.

The development of the computer in the 1980s and 1990s gave rise to computer-based facial recognition technology. This advancement in facial recognition technology allowed for faster recognition and used neural networks to analyze facial images. This technology quickly replaced the anatomy-based systems as the preferred facial recognition method.

Today, facial recognition technology takes advantage of computer power and artificial intelligence (AI) advances to deliver faster and more accurate results. But the biggest concern around FRT is that it is prone to making false positives, especially for people of color and women. This is because the technology is often trained on a limited dataset.

For example, research has found that FRT can fail to identify people of color up to 35% of the time and can be up to 19 times more inaccurate in identifying women than men. This could lead to serious consequences, such as individuals being incorrectly identified as criminals or people being stopped and questioned in public for no reason.

Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents President-Elect Marc Baiocco agrees with the ban in New York.

"For us in the schools we know our students, so what exactly would we be getting from the facial recognition technology?" he said, quoted in an article in Rockland/Westchester Journal News. "We need to always find that balance between safety and privacy."