NYS Senate to vote on biometric technology in schools, including facial recognition

Jul 22, 2020

The state Senate is scheduled to vote on a bill Wednesday that would impose a two-year moratorium on all biometric technology in New York schools. That would include facial recognition technology like the new security system activated in the Lockport City School District earlier this year.

Democrat Monica Wallace, whose district includes Cheektowaga and Lancaster, sponsored the bill in the state Assembly. She said it is part of a larger conversation the United States needs to have about the creeping expansion of surveillance technology.

"Technology can be helpful, but I also think part of the conversation needs to be [about how] it can also be abused," Wallace said. "We need to make sure we put into place the protocols and be thoughtful about it and recognize that as much as there's potential to do good, there's also potential for that technology to be dangerous and oppressive."

The proposed bill would ban the purchase or use of all biometric identifying technology in New York schools through July 1, 2022, or until the New York State Education Department conducts a study and makes recommendations about the use of such technology for local school districts. Facial recognition technology is currently unregulated at both the state and federal levels.

"The discussion has to be who gets to make that decision about using it. Should it be the local superintendent? Or should it be state education, which is my position, saying whether this is a good thing to begin with and, if so, here's the parameters at a minimum we need you to put in place, and from there, the school can make a local decision," Wallace said. "But right now, before this legislation or without this legislation, we're just sort of leaving it up to the Wild West of whoever wants to use it go ahead. There's no parameters."

Wallace’s assembly bill was passed Tuesday and Senate sponsor Brian Kavanagh of New York City said he has the votes to get his bill through today. Neither sponsor has expressed a willingness to grant an exception for Lockport should the proposal be signed into law.

The same facial recognition security system has also been purchased but not yet activated by the Depew Union Free School District.