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“Really alarming”: the rise of smart cameras used to catch students without masks in American schools | Observation


InStudents in the Atlanta suburbs returned to school for private lessons amid the pandemic, they had to disguise themselves, as in many places in the United States. Yet in this 95,000-strong student constituency, officials have gone a step further than most others.

Through a network of security cameras, officials used artificial intelligence to identify students whose masks hung under their noses.

“If they say a picture is worth a thousand words, if I send you a piece of video, it’s probably worth a million,” said Paul Hildrett, the district’s emergency coordinator. “You really can’t deny, ‘Oh yeah, it’s me, I took off my mask.’

A school district in Fulton County has set up a surveillance network Avigilon, owned by Motorolayears before the pandemic closed schools across the country in 2020. Due to fears of mass shootings in schools, districts have increasingly deployed controversial surveillance networks in recent years, such as face-detection and weapons detection cameras.

With the pandemic, security providers changed directions and began marketing their products as a solution to end the latest threat. In Fulton County, Avigilon County used “no mask detection” technology to identify students with open faces.

Distance learning during the pandemic opened a new era of digital surveillance of students as schools switched to artificial intelligence services as remote proctoring and digital screening tools billions of student emails and class assignments in search of threats and signs of mental health prevention. Returning to campus, the districts deployed tools such as icons that track every movement of students.

But one of the most significant developments was in AI-enabled cameras. Twenty years ago, 19% of schools had security cameras National Center for Education Statistics. Today it is quantity exceeds 80%. Providing these cameras with artificial intelligence makes automated surveillance possible, making it possible to check the temperature and collect other biometric data.

Areas across the country have said they have purchased AI cameras to fight the pandemic. But as pandemic-era protocols such as mask mandates expire, experts say the technology will remain. Some teachers have announced plans to use pandemic-era surveillance technology for student discipline while others hope AI cameras will help them identify young people carrying weapons.

The cameras have met with sharp opposition from civil rights defenders who question their effectiveness and claim that they violate students’ rights to privacy.

Noah Young, a 16-year-old high school student in Fulton County, said she knew the cameras were monitoring her school but was unaware of their high-tech, such as mask detection. She agreed with the term of the district mandate on masks, but felt that educators should be more transparent about the technology.

“I think it’s useful for Covid stuff, but it seems a little intrusive,” Young said in an interview. “I think it’s weird that we didn’t know about it.”

Campus Security Deputy Sandra Swint oversees security camera broadcasts from a school in Fulton County, Georgia.  The area’s schools are equipped with high-tech CCTV cameras from Avigilon.
Campus Security Deputy Sandra Swint oversees security camera broadcasts from a school in Fulton County, Georgia. The area’s schools are equipped with high-tech CCTV cameras from Avigilon. Photo: Fulton County

Outside of Fulton County, educators used AI cameras to fight Covid on various fronts.

At the 13th Rockland Regional School Office in Maine, officials used federal money to help with the pandemic to purchase a network of cameras with face match technology. to track contacts. Thanks to advanced surveillance, cameras are made California Security Company Verkadawill allow the 1,600-student district to identify students who have been in close contact with classmates who have tested positive for Covid-19.

In an area in the suburbs of Houston, officials spent nearly $ 75,000 on cameras supporting artificial intelligence. Hikvisionan observation company that is partly owned by the Chinese government, and has deployed thermal imaging and face detection to identify students with fever and without masks.

The cameras can be viewed by up to 30 people at a time, making them “less intrusive” than slower processes, said Tai Moore, head of security at Brazosport’s independent school district. Checkpoints helped the district identify students who later tested positive for Covid-19, Morrow said, though surveillance testing company argued that Hikvision’s requirement to accurately scan 30 people simultaneously is impossible.

“It was another tool we had in the toolkit to show parents that we are exercising due diligence to make sure we don’t let children or Covid staff into institutions,” he said.

However, it is this mentality that worries adviser Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Security and Safety Service in Cleveland. According to an industry expert, security equipment for the sake of public perception is just “smoke and mirrors”.

“It creates a facade,” he said. “Parents think that all the frills will keep their children safe, and that’s not necessarily the case. Nobody watches the cameras in the vast majority of schools. “

When Fulton County upgraded its network of surveillance cameras in 2018, officials encouraged Avigilon-based “search for appearance,” which allows security officers to view mountains of video and identify students by characteristics such as their hair or color. of their shirts. When the pandemic began, the discovery of the company’s mask became an attractive addition, Hildret said.

He said the district did not advertise the technology to students, but they probably learned about it quickly after students were summoned for breaking the rules. He doesn’t know the students ’opinions about the cameras – or seems indifferent.

“I was probably not so much interested in their reaction as in their preservation,” Hildret said. “You don’t have to like something good for you, but you still need to do it.”

A Fulton County spokesman said they were unaware of cases where students were disciplined because cameras captured them without masks.

Among the most ardent critics of the school security industry is Sneha Revanur, a 17-year-old high school student from San Jose, California, who founded youth group Encode Justice to highlight the dangers of artificial intelligence for civil liberties.

Revanur said she was concerned about district decisions to introduce surveillance cameras as a public health strategy and that technology in schools could lead to tighter discipline for students, especially colored youth.

Vercada offers a warning. Last year the company suffered a massive data leak when the hack exposed live tapes of 150,000 surveillance cameras, including at Tesla factories, prisons and Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This was reported by the Newtown district, where a mass shooting took place in 2012 the violation was not exposed compromising information about students. The the vulnerability did not prevent some educators have contracted with a California company.

After talking to a Verkada spokesperson, the company did not give an interview or answer a list of written questions.

Revanur called Verkada’s hacking of Sandy Hook elementary a “stunning accusation” of educators ’rush to“ surveillance systems that treat everyone as permanent suspects ”due to student privacy. Continuous monitoring, she argued, “creates a culture of fear and paranoia that is not really the most active response to violence and security concerns.”

In Fayette County, Georgia, the county spent about $ 500,000 to purchase 70 Hikvision cameras with thermal imaging of students with temperatures. But it is eventually retreated and turned them off after the unrest in society over their effectiveness and Hikvision’s links with the Chinese government. In 2019, the US government introduced a blacklist on Hikvisionclaiming that the campaign was involved in China’s “campaign of repression, mass arbitrary detentions and high-tech surveillance” against Muslim ethnic minorities.

The school district declined to comment. A statement from a Hikvision spokesman said the campaign “takes all human rights reports very seriously” and is involving governments around the world “to clear up misunderstandings about the campaign”. The company is “committed to maintaining the right to privacy,” a spokesman said.

Meanwhile, the decision of the 13th regional school branch to use Verkada security cameras as a contact tracking tool may warn a 2021 law banning the use of facial recognition in Maine schools. The district did not respond to requests for comment.

Michael Kebede, Maine’s ACLU policy consultant, cited recent research on facial recognition deficiencies in identifying children and colored people and urged the district to reconsider its approach.

“We do not agree in principle that the use of the mass surveillance tool is a way to strengthen the health and safety of students,” Kobede said in a statement. “It’s a nightmare of civil liberties for all, and it perpetuates the oversight of already marginalized communities.”

“We have some false positives”

In Fulton County, school officials turned off the face mask detection feature in canteens because it was caused by people eating lunch. At other times, he spotted students who briefly pulled off masks to drink water.

In the suburbs of Houston, Moraw encountered similar obstacles. For example, when white students wore light-colored masks, the face detection system sounded the alarm. And when students rode their bikes to school, the cameras recorded their fever.

“We have a few false positives, but it’s not a technology failure,” Hildret said. “We just had to look and adapt what we looked to fit our needs.”

With these lessons in mind, Hildret said he hopes to soon equip Fulton County campuses with AI-enabled cameras that identify students who bring guns to school.

In the world after the pandemic Albert Fox Kahn, founder of a nonprofit organization Surveillance Technology Oversight Projectworries that the entire school security industry will take a similar approach.

“As the pandemic, we hope, weakens, we will see that many security providers will return to school shooting rhetoric as an excuse for camera systems,” he said. Because of the possibility of errors, Kahn called the introduction of artificial intelligence monitoring in schools “really alarming.”

This report was published in partnership with 74a nonprofit, nonpartisan news site that covers education in America

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