Assemblymember Wallace’s Legislation to Pause Facial Recognition Technology in Schools Passes Assembly

Today, Assemblymember Monica P. Wallace (D-Lancaster) announced that legislation she authored regarding the use of facial recognition technology in schools has passed the state Assembly (A.6787B). The legislation imposes a temporary moratorium on the purchase and use of facial recognition technology in schools and directs the New York State Department of Education to study the issue and propose regulations.

“Facial recognition is a new and untested technology, especially in schools,” said Wallace. “There are real questions about its reliability and about a school’s ability to protect sensitive student biometric data. Before rushing forward with implementation, I believe it’s prudent to have the state Department of Education study the issue and propose regulations. This bill simply asks that we take a closer look at this technology before moving forward.”

Several schools in New York State have announced their intention to purchase and install facial recognition systems using taxpayer dollars through the New York State Smart Schools program. The New York State Smart Schools program was approved in 2014 by referendum, and is intended to aid school districts with updating education technology and infrastructure in a manner that will improve learning and opportunity for students. Indeed, schools have used Smart Schools funding to improve internet connectivity in classrooms, purchase interactive whiteboards, tablets, and computers to enhance student learning, and enhance communication between teachers and parents. [1][2]

However, at least one Western New York school district has already spent over $1 million in Smart Schools funds to purchase this yet-untested software instead, and other schools have announced plans to follow suit. Wallace introduced the legislation to require the state Department of Education to look more deeply into the costs, benefits, and risks associated with using this technology in schools before further investments are made.

“We cannot simply presume the safety and reliability of this software based upon vendor representations,” continued Wallace. “Rather, let’s have the Department of Education – an entity with the singular focus of providing a sound education while keeping kids safe – weigh in and make sure we’re spending public money on school safety as effectively as we can.”

Throughout her time representing the 143rd Assembly District, Wallace has been instrumental in partnering with school districts in her community to enhance school safety. Last year, she secured $75,000 for the Depew Union Free School District to launch a school resource officer pilot program, and also secured $50,000 for the Cleveland Hill School in 2017 for the hardening of entry ways and security cameras throughout the district’s buildings.

“We all want to make sure our schools are safe, but we want to ensure that our limited taxpayer resources are being spent on the best systems to do that. We also want to ensure that we are not compromising sensitive student data in the process. So this legislation simply asks that we pause to take a more thoughtful approach when dealing with this new technology, so as to ensure the safety of students and their data,” concluded Wallace.