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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Flooding in Florida up to roof level as Hurricane Michael continues destructive path inland

Supercharged by abnormally warm waters in the Gulf of Mexico, Michael slammed into the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday with potentially catastrophic winds of 155 mph, the most powerful hurricane to hit the U.S. mainland in nearly 50 years.

Its winds shrieking, Michael crashed ashore in the early afternoon near Mexico Beach, a tourist town about midway along the Panhandle, a lightly populated, 200-mile stretch of white-sand beach resorts, fishing towns and military bases.

It battered the coastline with sideways-blown rain, powerful gusts and crashing waves. It swamped streets, flattened trees, stripped away limbs and leaves, knocked out power, shredded awnings and sent shingles flying. Explosions apparently caused by blown transformers could be heard.

"We are catching some hell," said Timothy Thomas, who rode out the storm with his wife in their second-floor apartment in Panama City Beach. He said he could see broken street signs and a 90-foot pine bent at a 45-degree angle.

The meteorological brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression, becoming a furious Category 4 by early Wednesday, up from a Category 2 less than a day earlier. It was the most powerful hurricane on record to hit the Panhandle.

"I've had to take antacids I'm so sick to my stomach today because of this impending catastrophe," National Hurricane Center scientist Eric Blake tweeted as the storm - drawing energy from the unusually warm, 84-degree Gulf waters - became more menacing.

More than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast were urged to evacuate as Michael closed in. But emergency authorities lamented that many people ignored the warnings and seemed to think they could ride it out.

"While it might be their constitutional right to be an idiot, it's not their right to endanger everyone else!" Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson tweeted.

Satellite imagery of Hurricane Michael as it makes landfall at Florida about 1pm local time (6am NZT).
Satellite imagery of Hurricane Michael as it makes landfall at Florida about 1pm local time (6am NZT). Source: NOAA

Diane Farris, 57, and her son walked to a high school-turned-shelter near their home in Panama City to find about 1,100 people crammed into a space meant for about half as many. Neither she nor her son had any way to communicate because their lone cellphone got wet and quit working.

"I'm worried about my daughter and grandbaby. I don't know where they are. You know, that's hard," she said, choking back tears.
Hurricane-force winds extended up to 45 miles (75 kilometers) from Michael's center. Forecasters said rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 meters).

Based on its internal barometric pressure, Michael was the third most powerful hurricane to blow ashore on the U.S. mainland, behind the unnamed Labor Day storm of 1935 and Camille in 1969. Based on wind speed, it was the fourth-strongest, behind the Labor Day storm (184 mph, or 296 kph), Camille and Andrew in 1992.

The storm appeared to be so powerful that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over Georgia early Thursday. Forecasters said it will unleash damaging wind and rain all the way into the Carolinas, still recovering from Hurricane Florence's epic flooding.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said the government is "absolutely ready for the storm." ''God bless everyone because it's going to be a rough one," he said. "A very dangerous one."

In Panama City, plywood and metal flew off the front of a Holiday Inn Express. Part of the awning fell and shattered the glass front door of the hotel, and the rest of the awning wound up on vehicles parked below it.

Hurricane Michael's Eye over the coast of Florida, about 6.30am NZT (1.30pm local time).
Hurricane Michael's Eye over the coast of Florida, about 6.30am NZT (1.30pm local time). Source: NASA

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Canada is legalising marijuana – the second country to do so

Canada is legalising adult use of marijuana on Oct. 17 and will be the second and largest country to do so. The federal government established the broad outline of the legalisation law but left it up to provinces and territories to fill in some of the details - such as whether to allow home grows, to establish a legal purchase age of 18 or 19, and whether to sell through government-run pot shops or private outlets.

Here's a look at how the industry will look, as well as some key differences between Canada's approach and that of the nine U.S. states that have legalized so-called recreational marijuana:

WHAT'S ALLOWED

Canada's Cannabis Act allows people 18 and older to buy marijuana online or in retail stores. Most provinces have raised the minimum age to 19, however, to align with the drinking age. In the US, states with recreational legalisation have an age limit of 21, which matches the drinking age.

Canadian law sets a 30-gram limit on how much people can buy at once or possess in public. That's just over an ounce, which is the possession limit in all but one of the US states with legal pot - Maine's limit is 2.5 ounces (71 grams). However, there's no limit on how much Canadians can possess in their homes.

The Canadian law also allows for residents to grow up to four plants at home, though two provinces - Quebec and Manitoba - opted to forbid home-growing. U.S. states including California, Nevada, Alaska and Colorado allow home-growing of up to six plants.

WHAT'S AVAILABLE


Unlike in the US, where many types of products are available, Canada is for now allowing sales of only dried cannabis flower, tinctures, capsules and seeds. Marijuana-infused foods and concentrates are expected to be available in about a year.

Residents across Canada will be able to buy marijuana online, through websites run by each province - a handy resource for cannabis users in any cities that might decide to ban pot shops. Most provinces will have at least some stores open next Wednesday, ranging from 20 in New Brunswick to a single store in British Columbia. Hundreds more are expected to open nationwide over the next year.

Federal taxes will total $1 per gram or 10 percent, whichever is more. The feds will keep one-quarter of that and return the rest to the provinces, which can add their own markups. Consumers also will pay local sales taxes.

GOVERNMENT INVOLVEMENT


A key difference between the Canadian and American models is government involvement. The main federal effort in the U.S. is to enforce drug laws that still treat marijuana as a controlled substance.

In Canada, the federal government regulates producers. Canada so far has licensed some 120 growers.

The provinces are tasked with overseeing distribution. Some will buy wholesale marijuana and deliver it to retail stores and, through the federal postal service, to online customers. The government involvement in distribution could help control prices, keeping them at a level that is competitive with the black market without allowing overproduction to threaten the viability of licensed producers, experts say.

In some US states, especially Oregon, an oversupply of legal pot has raised concerns about product being diverted to other states.

The Ruatoria company has just become the first business in New Zealand granted a licence to cultivate the plants.
Source: 1 NEWS


Wave of water ploughs through St Llorenc as flooding claims nine lives on Spanish island of Mallorca

At least nine people have died on the Spanish island of Mallorca after a torrential rainstorm caused flash flooding that left a trail of piled vehicles and damaged infrastructure from surges of water and mud.

Two British citizens and a Dutch woman were among the victims found, one day after the rainfall, a spokeswoman with the regional emergency service said.

The only missing person as of this morning was a 5-year-old boy who disappeared with his mother. The Civil Guard found the mother's body. Before floodwaters dragged her and the boy away, the woman reportedly managed to bring her 7-year-old daughter out of their vehicle, according to unidentified Civil Guard sources quoted by Spanish private news agency Europa Press.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez said during a visit to the eastern coast of the island that the impacted area would be declared a "zone of catastrophe," which unlocks funds for recovery, reconstruction and compensation of victims.

The military has been called in to help emergency services deal with the scale of the devastation. Source: BBC

"Given the magnitude of what happened we are going to unleash all resources necessary to return their lives to their everydayness, but the most urgent thing right now is to find those people disappeared," Sanchez told reporters.

Authorities said the rainstorm was unlike any people could remember. They described it as both intense and localized in a narrow stretch of land, which led to the overflowing of a creek that cuts through the town of Sant Llorenc des Cardassar, about 60 km east of Palma de Mallorca.

Videos shot on mobile phones by local residents showed a strong current of water and mud that buried cars and tore trees on its way down the streets of the town of 8,000.

At least nine people are dead after the flooding on the Island of Mallorca. Source: Breakfast