Concerns As More Schools Start Using Facial Recognition, AI Technologies To Monitor Kids

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Parents and students alike are growing increasingly concerned about the use of artificial intelligence (AI) technologies at school.

According to a survey by the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT) more than half of parents and students surveyed were concerned about the use of facial recognition and other AI technologies, including location tracking systems, in schools.

Teachers, who also were surveyed, showed a higher degree of acceptance of the technologies.

But is it reassuring or invasive?

The Defender reports: According to the report, a growing number of schools have implemented such tools.

Proponents of the technologies argue they can help protect school environments from violent threats, such as school shooters.

Privacy advocates argue the technologies that pose a risk to the privacy and personal data of students, have not been proven to increase school safety.

‘Deep disconnect between schools, parents, and students’ 

According to CDT, “experimental, potentially harmful safety tools are being used regardless of student, parent concerns” — including technologies “we previously thought ‘too outlandish.’”

These include predictive analytics, remote proctoring, facial recognition, law enforcement data sharing, weapon detection systems and student location tracking.

Driven by AI, these technologies “are expanding in schools to respond to mass shootings, the youth mental health crisis, and other ever-present safety threats to staff and students,” CDT said — an “alarming” trend that schools are continuing the rollout of such technologies despite “high levels of concern” from parents and students.

These “high levels of concern” were evident in the survey’s results showing:

  • 58% of parents and 55% of students (and 33% of teachers) were concerned about the use of facial recognition cameras to check who should be allowed to enter a school building or who is authorized to be there.
  • 71% of parents and 74% of students (and 36% of teachers) expressed concern about the use of such technologies to track students’ physical location.
  • 60% of parents and 58% of students (and 31% of teachers) were concerned about the use of AI cameras “to notice unusual or irregular physical movements.”
  • 55% of parents and 45% of students (and 27% of teachers) expressed concern about the use of such technologies to detect gunshots on school grounds.
  • 69% of students and parents (and 36% of teachers) were concerned that student data are being analyzed to predict which individual students would be most likely to commit a crime, violent act or an act of self-harm.
  • 66% of parents and 65% of students (and 38% of teachers) expressed concern with the possibility that students’ academic information, such as their grades and attendance records, could be shared with law enforcement.
  • 68% of parents and 71% of students (and 37% of teachers) were concerned about such technologies being used to monitor students’ social media accounts.

These results show “a deep disconnect between schools, parents, and students in their priorities when it comes to edtech [educational data and technology] procurement decisions,” CDT wrote.

Schools using COVID recovery funds to buy surveillance technologies

The survey builds on a CDT report, published in September, on edtech tools that perform content filtering and blocking, student activity monitoring or that use generative AI.

According to that report, the COVID-19 pandemic helped hasten the uptake of such technologies in school environments — a development viewed critically by CDT.

“The use of student activity monitoring software rapidly expanded during remote learning and has maintained a significant presence in students’ lives. Unfortunately,

it continues to harm the students it is intended to help,” the report said.

According to the report, those harms range from disciplinary actions to outing students without their consent and initiating law enforcement contact.

The report also included data indicating that 88% of teachers reported their schools use student activity monitoring software, 40% of teachers reported that their schools monitor students’ personal devices and 38% of teachers reported that their school monitors students outside of school hours — though, notably, there was a 9 percentage point decrease in this metric from the 2021-22 school year.

Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, told Education Week in October, “Schools have been using the COVID recovery funds to buy security equipment and hardware.”

Technology firms have “amped up” the marketing of these products to school districts in recent years, according to Trump who said the purchases “have been used to solve political and community relation problems, not so much school safety problems.”

“When there is gun use or confiscation on campus, we see school boards and superintendents make knee-jerk decisions and play to the emotional security needs of parents and staff,” Trump added.

In an example from the United Kingdom, Sky News reported in October 2021 that 27 schools had begun using a facial recognition system to serve lunch to students and 15 more were ready to implement the technology — a measure purportedly aimed at reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Sky News reported that parents and activists “warned that it normalised exposing children to biometric surveillance, and complained that they weren’t confident students were being adequately informed about the privacy risk.”

And despite reportedly high levels of consent from parents, Sky News reported at the time that children’s privacy advocates Jen Persson and Pippa King told Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner, “High uptake should not be mistaken as consent,” noting that consent forms provided to parents made acceptance appear mandatory.

Such complaints led the Information Commissioner’s Office, the U.K.’s data watchdog, to investigate. Scotland’s North Ayrshire Council paused its rollout of the technology, while the British House of Lords debated the issue in November 2021.

Niamh Harris
About Niamh Harris 15083 Articles
I am an alternative health practitioner interested in helping others reach their maximum potential.