Above all, parents want safety and security in schools when they drop their child off each day. Currently, anyone can walk into a school building, including people who intend to harm the children. But, facial recognition technology could change who can get in.

In two recent mass incidents in schools, Stoneman Douglas High School and Sandy Hook Elementary School, the perpetrators should not have had access to the campus. The perpetrator at Stoneman Douglas was an expelled student, while at Sandy Hook Elementary School the perpetrator was a twenty year-old man who was not a parent or family member of any student. Facial recognition technology could have immediately identified both perpetrators as intruders in these cases and prevented them from entering campus.

Although school is where youths spend most of their time, violent deaths at school are extremely rare, making up only 3% of youth homicides. Schools do not have to invent entirely new ways to protect their students. Implementing facial recognition technology is a simple change that makes securing school access points more reliable and easier to control.

According to the Rural School and Community Trust, 25% of school shootings are mass incidents (4 or more injured or killed), all mass incidents in elementary schools are committed by intruders, and 94%  of those mass incidents were committed by adults. By using facial recognition technology to secure access points, schools can immediately identify those who are not authorized to be on campus before they enter buildings. While implementing facial recognition technology may be considered radical, it is ultimately nothing more than a means of amplifying the normal human capability of recognizing who belongs in the community and who does not. It is worth considering this convenient and affordable technology in comparison to other identification systems. For example, name badges can be easily lost or stolen and then used by intruders to trespass onto school grounds.

One Seattle-based digital media company is offering its software for free to all K-12 schools in the United States and Canada, providing a helpful model for concerned decision makers. The software upgrades schools’ on-site security systems by re-programming pre-existing surveillance systems to recognize students, staff, parents, and other pertinent visitors to schools’ campuses. The AI-based product is compatible with Mac, iOS, Android and Windows. The software protects students during school hours by restricting access to the campus. To ensure personal privacy, a fingerprint is generated for each face and the software connects it to information stored in a database hosted by the school. This is a private database which encrypts all facial data. The data can be deployed in the cloud or used locally without internet, but the data always remains in the school’s possession.

This technology is currently being tested at the University Child Development School (UCDS) in Seattle. Adults register their faces and names with the school, allowing school gates to open when cameras verify the adults’ identity. Adults can choose to opt out of registering their faces and enter the school with a manual identity check instead. If the system does not recognize a face, a member of the staff is notified and decides if the individual in question should be allowed on campus or not.

Children deserve special consideration in regards to facial recognition technology. UCDS students are in kindergarten through fifth grade and are always escorted by an adult so the pilot program only registers parents and staff in the system. This ensures compliance with the Child Online Privacy Protection Act, which requires website operators and online services to have parental consent before collecting certain types of information about children under the age of thirteen. For minors above the age of thirteen, a school could register its students so that they could come and go freely on campus. Registering high school age students would also prevent expelled students from entering campus.

These safeguards are supported by ALEC Principles on Online Privacy which argue the most effective privacy policies provide notice, choice, security, and access. The ALEC Statement of Principles on School Security and Safety also embraces securing physical school infrastructure and using technology as a key component to improving safety.

This simple software has made facial recognition technology a viable option for communities and local school leaders to try out and assess best practices. Elementary and high school campuses will benefit from using facial recognition technology as an additional safeguard to prevent future tragedies and give nervous parents more peace of mind.

Anna Parsons writes for the American Legislative Council.

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