General Intelligence

New York May Soon Become the First State to Ban Facial Recognition in Schools

The bill calls for a comprehensive study of the technology ‘prior to spending millions of dollars on technology that may not make our children significantly safer’

Welcome to General Intelligence, OneZero’s weekly dive into the A.I. news and research that matters.

A two-year facial recognition ban in schools across New York state looks more and more likely, as a bill that passed both state legislatures on July 22 now heads to Governor Cuomo’s desk. If Cuomo signs the bill, New York would become the first state to explicitly regulate the use of facial recognition in schools.

The bill doesn’t take the hard-line stance on the technology that privacy advocates have called for, which would be an indefinite ban of all use of facial recognition. Instead, it just bans use of the technology in schools until July 2022. The bill specifies that the technology could be introduced in schools sooner if the New York commissioner of education produces a report outlining ways to implement the technology fairly and with minimal privacy impact.

New York is especially attuned to the risk of using facial recognition technology in schools. In 2018, Lockport, New York, became one of the first cities to sign a $1.5 million contract to install the technology across schools.

“It is imperative that the commissioner studies and reports on the risks and benefits of using this evolving form of technology.”

When it tried to test the technology, the State Education Department asked the city to pause the use of the technology due to privacy concerns. The school revised its policies to comply with the state, ran initial tests, and launched the system in earnest in early 2020, according to an in-depth report in the New York Times.

Local sex offenders, individuals with restraining orders, and other specific cases are added to a blacklist operated by Lockport school administrators. If an algorithm detects the presence of any of these individuals, their information is sent to a school security officer.

Under this potential new statewide law, the school’s system would need to be shut down.

“Prior to spending millions of dollars on technology that may not make our children significantly safer than less costly alternatives, it is imperative that the commissioner studies and reports on the risks and benefits of using this evolving form of technology,” the bill states.

Although the bill would address the use of the technology in schools, it wouldn’t affect the police departments, sheriff’s departments, and state law enforcement still using facial recognition.

The New York City Police Department has infamously used facial recognition for years and has been criticized for pushing the technology beyond its intended purpose with sloppy outcomes.

The highest-profile example was using a picture of actor Woody Harrelson in a facial recognition search since another low-quality image of a suspect looked like the actor. Though a full ban on facial recognition in New York isn’t on the table, a report from the commissioner of education saying that the privacy risks of the technology outweigh its benefit could set a powerful precedent for further facial recognition legislation.

And now, for some of the most interesting A.I. papers of the week.

Facebook creates a digital invisibility cloak

Researchers from Facebook and the University of Maryland made a sweatshirt that evades image recognition algorithms that look for humans.

Google phones could soon track your body movement

A new algorithm for tracking 32 points on a person’s body as they move is now compact enough to function on a smartphone, Google researchers show. Researchers say the algorithm could power sign-language detection, yoga/fitness tracking, and augmented reality applications.

Nvidia generates videos of 3D worlds

Nvidia’s new algorithm can create a 3D space from multiple 2D images of a room, and then explore it in a video that looks a lot like The Matrix’s bullet-time scene. Click the link to watch the video — it’s legitimately incredible.

Senior Writer at OneZero covering surveillance, facial recognition, DIY tech, and artificial intelligence. Previously: Qz, PopSci, and NYTimes.

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