Assemblymember Wallace: Comptroller Report Confirms Need for Regulating Facial Recognition Technology in Schools

“When I first learned in spring 2018 that local public schools were using millions of dollars in Smart School Fund money to purchase facial recognition software, I immediately raised alarm. Smart School Fund money is intended to help schools acquire technology and infrastructure to improve student learning experiences. Although funding for security upgrades is a permissible use, introducing this unproven, unregulated and invasive technology into public classrooms at taxpayer expense is deeply concerning. That’s why I introduced and later passed legislation creating a moratorium on the purchase and use of facial recognition technology in schools pending further study.

“In the meantime, I reached out to State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, raising questions about the propriety of this expenditure. Lockport parent Jim Schultz had also reached out to the Comptroller, which prompted the Comptroller to conduct an audit of the Lockport City School District’s acquisition of its $2.7 million facial recognition system from SN Technologies. That audit, which was released this past Wednesday, found that the process used by the District to acquire the facial recognition system lacked transparency and was written in such a way as to favor a particular company, SN Technologies. Not-so-coincidentally, the security consultant hired by the District to assess its security needs and who recommend that the District acquire a facial recognition system, had ties to the company that ultimately benefited from its purchase.

“As the Comptroller noted in his audit, school districts are required to put large projects out to bid to increase transparency and avoid favoritism and corruption. The competitive bidding process serves as a check on the appropriate use of taxpayer money and avoids the very kinds of conflicts that occurred in this case. The actions by the District and School Board in failing to properly vet the acquisition of this multi-million dollar technology only confirms the need for my legislation.

“I thank Comptroller DiNapoli for providing oversight and accountability in this case. I hope the Comptroller’s audit will serve as warning to Lockport and to school districts and school boards across the state about the need to exercise caution and rigorously scrutinize all expenditures, especially those involving multi-million dollar high-tech security systems.”