It seems like we inch closer to living in a Black Mirror episode each and every day. As technology continues to grow more invasive, privacy, in turn, is rapidly diminishing as so many of us willingly allow companies to gain ownership of our personal data — which can too easily turn around to bite us in the butt. And while, sure, that may be fine for us adults who at least understand (somewhat) what we’re getting into — but what about our kids? How do we protect them and their privacy while they’re still too young to have much say in the matter? It looks like this may now be an uphill battle, as facial recognition technology makes its way into the schools and summer camps. Are you creeped out yet? We don’t blame you.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a facial-recognition software — which would ensure no non-registered adults are allowed on campus — is currently being proposed to a number of K-12 public school districts. The selling point is simple enough: Here’s a way to protect your children from active shooters and other possible threats. Yes, it immediately tugs at the heart strings, because let’s face it, it’s hard for any parent to resist innovations that ensure their little one is kept out of harm’s way. Facial recognition technology may be forcing you to choose the lesser of two evils, which seems like a no-brainer. However, privacy experts are urging you to take the cautious route. The pendulum can easily swing in the favor of misuse if not carefully monitored.
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In a statement reported by The Wall Street Journal, Nathan Sheard, Grassroots Advocacy Organizer at Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “We’re in the very early stages of commercial, nongovernmental use of facial recognition, and we shouldn’t be waiting until harms occur to do something, we should be acting now to mitigate the harms.”
Perhaps the very first step in mitigating said harms is understanding how exactly the technology works. The software, which was developed by a Canadian firm known as SN Technologies Corp., says school districts have to do little more than create a database with images of people who are not allowed on its grounds (also note that the software can only identify a gun if it is not being hidden by a potential attacker). It is then integrated with the school’s camera, where it scans for a match. Once a match is made, officials are alerted. While SN Technologies Corp. claim the facial data of others are thrown out shortly after, they haven’t done much to address what happens in the case of a rogue student bringing a concealed firearm into the building.
New York State Assembly member Monica Wallace is also not quite sold on the latest offering from big tech. “The more I thought about it the more I realized how concerning it is that we don’t have any policies in place and that no one has given it any detailed thought before rushing forward,” she told the Wall Street Journal. She also shared that one school district is already using the software “for disciplinary purposes as well as threat assessments.” Wallace has since introduced legislation that seeks to slow down the rollout of facial recognition into New York schools until properly vetted guidelines are put in place. The bill has passed in the Assembly and is now awaiting review in the state senate.
But schools aren’t the only institutions making use of facial recognition—camps are getting on board as well. Photographers simply snap a few photos of camp attendees, upload it to site where it is scanned and identified, then shared with parents via their phone or website. One of these sites is Waldo Photos Inc., which allows either camps or parents to pay a fee of up to $2 per day per child. They ask that you provide a photo that is used and matched by artificial intelligence. An important thing to note: the image won’t be erased unless you explicitly asked that it is.
While I certainly enjoy the idea of knowing my children are safe at all times, the potential longterm dangers of giving away their data is more than enough to give me pause. I say we continue to exercise caution until protective laws are put into action.