Privacy & Security

N.Y. School District’s Facial Recognition System Remains on Hold, Lawsuit Dismissed

By Benjamin Joe, Niagara Gazette, Niagara Falls, N.Y. — September 07, 2021 2 min read
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A lawsuit brought by New York Civil Liberties Union last year to prevent Lockport City School District from operating its facial recognition-capable camera surveillance system was made moot by a state judge this week.

In June 2020, NYCLU filed suit against the New York State Education Department, petitioning Albany County Supreme Court to find that state ed’s approval of the Lockport camera system violated state education privacy laws, by improperly using student data, and the approval should be overturned. NYCLU’s petition was co-signed by four Lockport district parents.

The judge ruled on Tuesday that because then. Gov. Andrew Cuomo late last year signed into law a bill temporarily barring the use of such technology in schools, NYCLU had already gotten what it wanted and no further legal action is needed.

In response, NYCLU said in a written statement, “This decision underscores how critical the legislative moratorium on biometric surveillance in schools is. The court went to great lengths to emphasize the nature of the legal oversight NYSED is now obligated to provide toward school surveillance and student data. As students return to campuses this fall, we encourage anyone with concerns about biometric surveillance in their school to contact the NYCLU.”

The Lockport school district was not a listed defendant in the suit, but soon after its filing the district contracted with the Hodgson Russ law firm to help it gain “intervenor” status in the proceedings.

According to the law firm, since NYCLU’s ultimate objective was to force the shutdown of the district’s Aegis system — the software system that enabled facial and object recognition through surveillance cameras in school buildings — the district faced a threat to its “ability to ensure the safety of the school community.” The district sought intervenor status to dispute NYCLU’s claims about the use of student data and try to get the suit tossed. In pursuit of the objective, Hodgson and Russ argued the state education department lacked the authority, under state education law, to stop the district from using the Aegis system, which it had activated in January 2020.

Hodgson Russ was paid $24,530 for its work assisting the district with the NYCLU litigation, according to Deborah Coder, assistant superintendent of finance and management services.

The statewide moratorium on the purchase and use of biometric identifying technology in schools is in effect until at least July 1, 2022, or until a report on the technology’s various impacts — on student civil liberties and privacy particularly — is completed and the state Education Commissioner authorizes its use, whichever is later.

Copyright (c) 2021, Niagara Gazette (Niagara Falls, N.Y.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.

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