US schools eye facial recognition technology to boost security

The surveillance system that has kept watch on students entering Lockport schools for over a decade is getting a novel upgrade. Facial recognition technology soon will check each face against a database of expelled students, sex offenders and other possible troublemakers.

It could be the start of a trend as more schools fearful of shootings consider adopting the technology, which has been gaining ground on city streets and in some businesses and government agencies. Just last week, Seattle-based digital software company RealNetworks began offering a free version of its facial recognition system to schools nationwide.

Already, the Lockport City School District's plan has opened a debate in this western New York community and far beyond about the system's potential effectiveness, student privacy and civil rights.

"We shake our heads that we're having to deal with and talk about these kinds of security issues," said Robert LiPuma, technology director for the Lockport district, east of Niagara Falls, "but here we are."

The idea behind the Lockport system is to enable security officers to quickly respond to the appearance of expelled students, disgruntled employees, sex offenders or certain weapons the system is programmed to detect. Only students seen as threats will be loaded into the database.

Officials say it is the first school district in the country to adopt the Canadian-made system it is installing.

Administrators say it could thwart shootings like February's attack in which expelled student Nikolas Cruz is charged with killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

"This would have identified (Cruz) as not being able to be in that building," said Tony Olivo, a security consultant who recommended the system for Lockport. Cameras mounted throughout the building would have followed the banned student's every move until he left.

Critics say the technology has been absent from schools for good reason.

In light of Lockport's plans, the New York Civil Liberties Union asked the state Education Department to block the technology from any New York school, saying it would "have a chilling effect on school climate."

Education officials say they are reviewing the request.

"Lockport is sending the message that it views students as potential criminals who must have their faces scanned wherever they go," NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman said.

Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights group, said any school considering facial recognition must consider who will have access to data, how such a system would be managed and whether students can opt out.

Others question the technology's cost and effectiveness, given reports like one released in February by MIT and Stanford University that found some facial recognition programs don't work as well on racial minorities and women.

Lockport parent Belinda Cooper would have preferred metal detectors in her 15-year-old daughter's school.

"It would have been cheaper for the school district, and you can guarantee no guns or knives will be brought in," she said.

District officials say the Aegis system they are installing, made by SN Technologies of Ontario, will not build or store a database of student and faculty face prints that could be shared with the government or marketers. Nor will the $1.4 million cost, funded through a state technology bond, siphon funding from staffing or supplies.

District officials acknowledge it won't stop a determined attacker from coming through the door, nor will it warn against someone who is not a known threat.

But "there's no system that's going to solve every problem," LiPuma said. "It's another tool that we feel will give us an advantage to help make our buildings and our communities a little safer."

Individual schools and districts, as well as the governors of Wyoming and one other state, have already expressed interest in RealNetworks' customizable SAFR System, senior product director Michael Vance said.

At the University Child Development School in Seattle where it was piloted, rather than rely on office staff buzzing in late arrivals or visitors, the system gives parents who have registered their faces automatic access through a locked gate and tells the office who is coming. Schools can opt to register students' faces and customize how to respond to people who have been flagged for alert.

"All of that resides with the school," Vance said. "We don't see it. We don't have access to the pictures, the images, the video, anything like that. It's stored in the same way that school attendance databases, grades, records, everything is kept."

Nevertheless, citing a patchwork of regulations, Vance said the company would welcome the kind of government guidelines for facial recognition technology that Microsoft President Brad Smith called for in a blog post July 13.

In Lockport, as crews worked on wiring the system inside, 16-year-old student Teliyah Sumler expressed some reservations.

"I feel like it's too personal," she said. "Cameras all in my face. It's too much."

Khari Demos, 22, who has two siblings in Lockport High School, said he worries for their safety and views facial recognition as another piece of a security puzzle that includes locked doors and active shooter drills.

"It'll actually identify who should and shouldn't be in the school," said Demos, who graduated from the school in 2013.

"The system will never be 100 per cent perfect but it's a step in the right direction."

The 19-year-old faces 17 charges of first degree murder, after allegedly gunning down 15 students and two teachers. Source: 1 NEWS



Residents flee as forest fire burns west of Athens

A swift-moving forest fire burned through a mountainous area west of Athens on Monday (Tuesday NZ Time), prompting residents to flee as smoke from the blaze turned the sky over the Greek capital a hazy orange.

The fire department said 80 firefighters with 40 vehicles were on the scene near the seaside settlement of Kineta, 50 kilometres from Athens between the capital and Corinth. Seven water-dropping planes and four helicopters were also helping to fight the wildfire.

Authorities were sending 17 firefighting vehicles from across Greece to bolster forces already in the area, but strong winds with frequently shifting gusts were hampering firefighting efforts.

Hours after the blaze began, flecks of ash swirled down onto central Athens.

Three communities were being evacuated and the forest fire shut down a nearly 20-kilometre section on two highways linking the Peloponnese with central Greece. Thick smoke reduced visibility on the highway to mere metres.

Several houses were in flames, footage from the Greek TV station Skai showed. Some residents used garden hoses to try to save their properties, while others escaped in cars and on mopeds.

It was not immediately clear how the fire started in the Geraneia mountains near Kineta.

A separate wildfire broke out on the southern island of Crete, the fire department said, burning agricultural land and woodland. Two helicopters there were assisting dozens of firefighters.

High temperatures of up to 40 degrees Celsius have been predicted lately for Greece, and authorities have warned that the risk of forest fires is high.

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summers. The worst by far occurred in 2007, when large swaths of forest and farmland burned, mainly in the Peloponnese in southern Greece, killing more than 60 people.

A pall of smoke turns large parts of the sky orange, with the ancient Acropolis hill at centre, as a forest fire burns in a mountainous area west of Athens, sending nearby residents fleeing, Monday, July 23, 2018. The fire department said five water-dropping planes and two helicopters were battling the blaze Monday in the Geraneia mountains near the seaside settlement of Kineta between Athens and Corinth, along with 30 firetrucks and 70 firefighters. (AP Photo/Theodora Tongas)
Source: Associated Press


Topics

TODAY'S
FEATURED STORIES

Second person dead after Toronto shooting

A man walked along a Toronto street firing a handgun into restaurants and cafes, shooting 14 people and killing two before dying after an exchange of gunfire with police.

Police Chief Mark Saunders did not rule out terrorism as a motive, though officials did not immediately identify the attacker, other than to say he was 29 years old.

Toronto police spokesman Meaghan Gray said early Monday local time that a second victim had died, though there were no further details.

Saunders earlier said that a young woman had died in Sunday's shootings and that a girl aged 8 or 9 was in critical condition. The condition of the other victims was not known yet.

"This is an attack against innocent families and our entire city," Toronto Mayor John Tory said in a city council meeting Monday.

The mass shooting in a usually peaceful city comes three months after a driver of a van plowed into pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 14 and amid increasing concern about gun violence.

A video from one witness shows a man dressed in black clothes and a black hat walking quickly and firing three shots from the sidewalk into at least one shop or restaurant in Toronto's Greektown, a lively residential area with crowded Greek restaurants and cafes.

Witnesses heard many shots and described the suspect walking past restaurants and cafes and patios on both sides of the street and firing into them.

John Tulloch said he and his brother had just gotten out of their car when he heard about 20 to 30 gunshots.

"We just ran. We saw people starting to run so we just ran," he said.

Tanya Wilson was closing her tattoo shop on the street when a mother and a son ran into her store with gunshot wounds to their legs

"They said they were walking and a man told them to get the hell out his way and he just shot them," Wilson said.

Wilson said she tied and elevated their wounds and tried to keep them calm while they waited for paramedics. She locked the door and shut off the lights, not knowing what was happening outside.

An army of police, paramedics and other first responders descended on the scene, while people, some in their pajamas, emerged from their homes to see what was happening.

Toronto Councilor Paula Fletcher said during the council meeting that the attack was "not gang related" and said the gunman was shooting "indiscriminately" into restaurants and into a park.

"I know we always say that can't happen here when we see those gunmen in the states doing the same thing and it has happened here now," Fletcher said.

She said both the new shootings and the earlier van attack were a "mental health issue," but did not say how she knew that.

Mass shootings are rare in Canada's largest city.

This past weekend Toronto police deployed dozens of additional officers to deal with a recent rise in gun violence in the city.

"Why does anyone in this city need to have a gun at all?" Tory said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted that his thoughts were with everyone affected.

"The people of Toronto are strong, resilient and brave — and we'll be there to support you through this difficult time," Trudeau tweeted.

In April, the driver of a van plowed into pedestrians on a Toronto sidewalk, killing 10 people and injuring 14. Authorities have not disclosed a motive. But they have said the arrested driver, Alek Minassian, posted a message on social media referencing a misogynistic online community before the attack.

Fourteen others were injured in the incident in which the gunman also died.
Source: 1 NEWS


Topics