Tech, Now + Beyond

Children of color can’t be safe at school if they’re automatically assumed to be criminals

Facial recognition software is just another version of institutional racism in the name of safety

Everytime that I have turned on the news over the past few years, it seems like there is always a report on another school shooting or an act of violence in a school setting.

Recently, K5 News reported that the Seattle-based company RealNetworks offered to install and allow Seattle Public Schools to use its facial recognition software named SAFR. Its website boasts that this software allows for schools to match a person’s face with their identity in real time. This technology makes use of cameras that the school already has installed.

While schools and the American government must address this epidemic of violence, facial recognition software is not the answer, as this will likely increase racism in academic settings. Without even looking at the racist implication that would follow, facial recognition software already sounds incredibly creepy and invasive.

The American Civil Liberties Union released a study on this issue in June, specifically examining Amazon’s usage of the tool “Rekognition.”  This study used Amazon’s tool to compare congressmen with people who have been arrested for crimes. Not to be dramatic, but the results were a catastrophe.

There were 28 false matches. False matches should raise eyebrows, and the racial bias is alarming. Currently, people of color only represent 20% of the House of Representatives. However, of the 28 false matches, 39% of these were of people of color. If this doesn’t seem like a problem to you, I hate to break it to you, but you may be as racist as this software.

Graphic from the ACLU on its results. Via ACLU

Studies like the ACLU’s shows us that facial recognition software will not keep students of color safe. If you think false matches of congressmen are bad, imagine what this would look like in real life if implemented in Seattle Public Schools. Way to help continue the epidemic of police brutality against people of color.

Already, even with schools in the United States, teachers and administrators have a clear unconscious bias that often leads to students of color being over-punished. For example, while black kids do not misbehave more than white kids, they are much more likely to be punished.

This is not to say RealNetworks did not have good intentions with its offer. GeekWire reported that RealNetworks CEO Rob Glaser offered this program after learning of the lack of security measures at his children’s elementary school. It makes sense that parents would want to protect their child. But, the impact is more important when it comes to addressing systems of violence.

The intent of this facial recognition software and other safety measures is in place to hopefully prevent school shootings. But their racial bias misses the mark completely. What did the Sandy Hook and Stoneham Douglas, and countless other mass shooters have in common? They look a whole lot more like me…..or dare I say, a white man,  than U.S. Representative John Lewis, who was falsely identified in ACLU’s study.

Schools need to be safer, but they need to be safer for all, including for people of color.