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

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Person still on the run following gang-related death in Canterbury over the weekend

At least one person is still on the run after a man was shot dead in rural Canterbury over the weekend, according to police.

The 28-year-old's body was found on the side of the road near Charing Cross at about 3.30pm on Saturday, and police said a firearm was involved.

They haven't confirmed the man was a gang member but said his death is gang related. For that reason, a heavy police presence remains at the scene more than a day later.

Detective Inspector Corrie Parnell spoke to media in Christchurch Police Station today. Source: 1 NEWS

Members of the public witnessed the incident and were part of the first response team, Detective Inspector Corrie Parnell said in a press conference yesterday.

"As you can well imagine (it was) a traumatic event for them," he said.

Several cars have been seized and are currently under guard while inquiries continue.

"A number of forensic scene examinations are underway in Grange Road and Telegraph Road," Mr Parnell said yesterday, explaining that they are likely to continue this week.

One person has died in the rural area of Selwyn this afternoon. Source: 1 NEWS

Police said the person or people at large do not pose a risk to the public.

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More than 300,000 without power as rare European hurricane slams into Portugal

A weakened hurricane Leslie slammed into the coast of Portugal, leaving 27 people injured as it uprooted trees, brought down power lines and smashed store windows with gusts of winds and heavy rain.

Over 60 people were forced to leave their homes and over 300,000 people suffered power outages, Luis Belo Costa of Portugal's National Protection Agency said.

People shelter from the rain under their umbrellas, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, after a weakened hurricane Leslie slammed into the coast of Portugal, leaving 27 people injured.
People shelter from the rain under their umbrellas, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, after a weakened hurricane Leslie slammed into the coast of Portugal, leaving 27 people injured. Source: Associated Press

He also gave the injury toll but added that none of the injuries were life-threatening.

People shelter from the rain under their umbrellas, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, after a weakened hurricane Leslie slammed into the coast of Portugal, leaving 27 people injured.
People shelter from the rain under their umbrellas, in San Sebastian, northern Spain, after a weakened hurricane Leslie slammed into the coast of Portugal, leaving 27 people injured. Source: Associated Press

Leslie had been downgraded from a Category 1 hurricane to a post-tropical cyclone with winds of 110 kph by the time it landed on Portugal's Atlantic coast yesterday.

But state broadcaster RTP said Leslie's wind speeds reached 170 kph in the coastal town of Figueira da Foz, 200 kilometres north of Lisbon.

Portugal's weather service had issued red warnings for high winds or dangerous coastal conditions for 13 of its 18 mainland districts, including Lisbon.

Winds sent trees crashing onto cars and sidewalks in the Portuguese capital and in the northern city of Porto.

Over 200 power lines were affected by the storm, according to reports citing power authority EDP.

Some flights were also cancelled or delayed.

Leslie moved east overnight across the Iberian Peninsula to Spain, where authorities issued warnings for heavy rains and storm conditions for the northern part of the country.

Leslie is a bit of a weather outlier, since hurricanes that regularly batter the American side of the Atlantic rarely bring their destructive power all the way across the ocean to Europe.

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Saudi Arabia hits back at Donald Trump's threat of 'severe punishment' over journalist's disappearance

Saudi Arabia warned overnight that it will respond to threats and political pressure with tough measures of its own after US President Donald Trump said the oil-rich kingdom deserves "severe punishment" if responsible for the disappearance and suspected murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

The apparent threat of economic retaliation from the world's top oil exporter came after a turbulent day on the Saudi stock exchange, which plunged as much as 7 per cent at one point.

The statement was issued as international concern grew over the writer who vanished on a visit to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul over a week ago. American lawmakers have threated sanctions against the Saudis, and Germany, France and Britain jointly called today for a "credible investigation" into Mr Khashoggi's disappearance.

Turkish officials have said they fear a Saudi hit team killed and dismembered Mr Khashoggi, who wrote critically of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The kingdom has called such allegations "baseless" but has not offered any evidence Mr Khashoggi ever left the consulate.

Turkish officials have released footage of a squad of Saudi men arriving in Istanbul the day Jamal Khashoggi vanished. Source: BBC

Already, international business leaders are pulling out of the kingdom's upcoming investment forum, a high-profile event known as "Davos in the Desert", and the sell-off on Riyadh's Tadawul stock exchange showed that investors are uneasy.

The exchange dropped by over 500 points, then clawed back some of the losses, ending the day down 264 points, or more than 4 per cent. Of 188 stocks traded on the exchange, 179 ended the day with a loss.

"Something this big would definitely spook investors, and Saudi just opened up for foreign direct investment, so that was big," said Issam Kassabieh, a financial analyst at Dubai-based firm Menacorp Finance. "Investors do not feel solid in Saudi yet, so it's easy for them to take back their funds."

In an interview scheduled to air today, Mr Trump told CBS' 60 Minutes that Saudi Arabia would face strong consequences if involved in Mr Khashoggi's disappearance.

"There's something really terrible and disgusting about that, if that was the case, so we're going to have to see," Mr Trump said. "We're going to get to the bottom of it, and there will be severe punishment."

But the president has also said "we would be punishing ourselves" by cancelling arms sales to Saudi Arabia. The sales are a "tremendous order for our companies", and if the Saudis don't buy their weaponry from the US, they will get it from others, he said.

Jamal Khashoggi hasn't been seen since entering the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. Source: BBC

In a statement published by the state-run Saudi Press Agency, the kingdom warned that if it "receives any action, it will respond with greater action, and that the kingdom's economy has an influential and vital role in the global economy".

"The kingdom affirms its total rejection of any threats and attempts to undermine it, whether by threatening to impose economic sanctions, using political pressures or repeating false accusations," the statement said.

The statement did not elaborate. However, a column published in English a short time later by the general manager of the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya satellite news network suggested Saudi Arabia could use its oil production as a weapon. Benchmark Brent crude is trading at around $80 a barrel, and Mr Trump has criticized OPEC and Saudi Arabia over rising prices.

"If the price of oil reaching $80 angered President Trump, no one should rule out the price jumping to $100, or $200, or even double that figure," Turki Aldakhil wrote.

It's unclear, however, whether Saudi Arabia would be willing to unilaterally cut production.

Mr Aldakhil added that Saudi arms purchases from the US and other trade could be at risk as well. "The truth is that if Washington imposes sanctions on Riyadh, it will stab its own economy to death, even though it thinks that it is stabbing only Riyadh!" he wrote.

Prince Mohammed has aggressively pitched the kingdom as a destination for foreign investment. But Mr Khashoggi's disappearance has led several business leaders and media outlets to back out of the upcoming investment conference in Riyadh called the Future Investment Initiative. That includes the CEO of Uber, a company in which Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars, as well as billionaire Richard Branson.

Mr Khashoggi has written extensively for the Post about Saudi Arabia, criticizing its war in Yemen, its recent diplomatic spat with Canada and its arrest of women's rights activists after the lifting of a ban on women driving. Those policies are all seen as initiatives of the crown prince.

Jamal Khashoggi disappeared 11 days after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. Source: BBC


Can a baby’s babble indicate they’ll be a good reader?

New research shows a baby’s babble can indicate whether they’ll grow up to be good readers.

Experts say the finding is important for New Zealand given the country’s reading standards have dropped over the last five years.

“Often people think that their babble means nothing but that's not true,” says Emma Quigan from Talking Matters.

“Babies are born ready to communicate.”

A Florida study listened to babies from nine months and measured the complexity of the babble.

“Sounds like 'pah, bur, meh', all the sounds that you make when you're speaking,” said University of Auckland’s Liz Fairgray.

Their reading was tested six year later, and those who performed best were the ones who babbled as babies.

While only nine infants were tracked, the findings are in line with previous research which proved speech and reading are heavily linked.

“We need to be able to hear the ‘ch’ sound, we need to be able to make the ‘ch’ sound and we then go on and we can read that the letter ‘c’ and the letter ‘h’ joined together can make a ‘ch’ sound... and make a word like chair,” says Ms Fairgray.

Parents need to engage more with their children if New Zealand hopes to turn around the reduction in reading standards over the past five years, experts say.

“It's not like we're anti-technology, but we know children learn best from humans,” said Ms Quigan.

Instead of using devices as babysitters, parents should listen and respond.

“When they babble -‘boo gaa gaa gaa gaa’, that kind of thing - treat it like words and respond to them as if they're saying something,” said Ms Quigan

“It's never too early to start talking to your children, to start reading to your children, and to really engage with them with vocal play,” Ms Fairgray said.

New research shows how much a baby babbles could indicate how good a reader they’ll become. Source: 1 NEWS