NY State suspends use of facial recognition in public schools

Last month, the New York State legislature approved a moratorium on the use of facial recognition technology in schools. The bill was quickly signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo.

The bill follows a lawsuit filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union demanding that the State block an upstate New York district’s plans to use facial recognition to screen people entering school buildings. That system was purported to be aimed at non-students only, but school board officials maintained that in the future students could be included in the system’s reach.

The COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the debate about facial recognition technology employed by public schools. A facial recognition system was installed in a Kansas school district to connect to the building’s body temperature scans under COVID-19 protocols.

Privacy advocates have praised the moratorium, but facial recognition systems raise civil rights concerns beyond privacy. Studies have found a significant racial bias in current facial recognition systems, with the National Institute of Standards and Technology finding that, for one-to-one matching, the system misidentified Asian and African American faces 10 to 100 times as often as Caucasian counterparts.

The trend of state laws leading the way on this issue is holding strong. In 2008, Illinois was the first state to pass a general biometric privacy law, the Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). BIPA was unique in providing Illinois citizens with a private right of action, which has led to lawsuits against major companies including Juul and Facebook.

At Nixon Peabody, we are continuing to track the changing landscape of biometric data collection and processing.