Fayette County Public Schools, a district of 24 schools in Georgia, reopened its doors last month. As with many schools across the country, Fayette officials fear getting students back to school safely in the midst of a pandemic – and they are turning to surveillance technology for help.
The school district recently Made a deal to purchase up to 75 cameras equipped with thermal imaging. The cameras, made by Hikvision, a Chinese supplier of facial recognition tools and other surveillance equipment, cost $ 7,000 each and quickly estimate temperatures to monitor potential virus spread on school grounds. The ability to quickly check for a sign of the virus is a great option for schools, potentially faster and safer than manually taking each visitor’s temperature.
“Hikvision cameras will only be used to measure an individual’s temperature to help eliminate the spread of COVID-19 and other viruses that can cause fever,” said Melinda Berry-Dreisbach, a spokesperson from the district in an email to The Markup.
The measurement, she said, was a convenient way to test the high temperature when students and staff walk into a school. Berry-Dreisbach said the cameras will not be used for facial recognition or other automated identification purposes, and the temperature readings will be stored on the school’s local network and ultimately deleted.
Hikvision, like some other tech companies, markets its products directly to schools, while promoting “value-added choices”, such as automatic mask detection and face identification.
But is this surveillance technology useful in preventing an epidemic? Privacy advocates say no and are also concerned that expensive technology installed during the pandemic could be used to track students long after it is gone.
Albert Fox Cahn, executive director of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project and host of the “Surveillance and the City” podcast, said the effectiveness of temperature controls is far from proven and that infected people can be asymptomatic or presymptomatic.
Fox Cahn says he understands the appeal of technology to school districts.
“You have this situation where people are faced with impossible choices,” Fox Cahn said. “Either by trying to provide distance education, or by trying to invest huge sums in manual contact tracing and really restrictive measures.”
“Tech companies are offering this seemingly incredible option,” he said. But for him, it’s just that – not believable.
Schools have long flirted with student surveillance – but it could become commonplace
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts turned to surveillance technology, often in the name of improving campus safety by tracking visitors, discovering weapons, or combating absenteeism. New York State School District Has Started Experimenting facial recognition technology before state legislators press pause on the program, and dozens of schools have started using Bluetooth location tracking.
But the pandemic has sparked a new wave of interest. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on a Motorola AI-powered service to detect mask compliance on video. Other schools are give students clothes to know who they come in contact with or to offer COVID screening applications.
Last month, TechCrunch reported that students at Albion College, a liberal arts school in Michigan, would be required to use a contact tracing app. The app tracks student movements in real time. Use of the app is mandatory during school hours and students could face disciplinary penalties for non-compliance. (An “FAQ” sheet d’Albion says officials will only use “location data [contact] tracing in case of positive test. “)
Schools that pursue distance learning also have a range of monitoring technology to purchase – including software that provides remote monitoring services, monitor students while they take the testsor automatic tracking of homework and attendance.
Technology may seem useful, but can be a ‘blunt tool’
Rachel Levinson-Waldman, deputy director of the Liberty and National Security program at the Brennan Center for Justice, says software like location tracking can be “a pretty blunt tool” – not something that gives you the full picture.
A app that tells you if you have come within six feet of someone diagnosed with COVID-19 can not providing an appropriate context– like there’s a wall of glass between you, she said. Likewise, the app might not be able to tell if you were wearing a mask or face shield, or if you were indoors or outdoors.
Cameras or tracking tools could also be installed during the pandemic, Levinson-Waldman said, but there is no guarantee that they will not stay in schools for much longer and end up being used for something beyond their own. initial objectives. The technology could potentially be used to monitor absenteeism or other disciplinary offenses, or even provide data to law enforcement.
Regardless of how the data is intended to be used, Levinson-Waldman said, the information collected can be extremely personal.
“You get into some really tough questions if you identify things like when are the students in the bathroom, because that information gets more and more intimate,” she says.
A report published this month According to the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project, any technologies adopted when reopening schools in the event of a pandemic should take into account potential data breaches and other unintended uses of data, as well as students’ rights to administrator privacy. , the police and even their parents.
“The continuous monitoring of the location of schoolchildren risks becoming another facet of the school-to-prison pipeline,” the report said, “providing law enforcement with unprecedented tracking capabilities to monitor children of color.”
Some schools do without
Some schools are focusing their efforts on more traditional screening and screening methods. Duke University, for example, uses a “pool-testing” system this involves testing five samples at a time. Other colleges took a similar approach.
At the University of Arizona, college officials are testing dormitory sewage for signs of the virus and say they recently prevented a larger outbreak through the process. After a water sample from a dormitory came back positive for the virus in August, officials tested everyone in the building and found two students infected who were then quarantined.
New York public schools plan to random test 10% of students and teachers must watch for the virus when schools reopen. In Los Angeles, school officials announced a plan last month to test 700,000 students in the coming months.
But these programs require considerable funds and resources, which makes them, without additional federal support, beyond the reach of many schools.
It takes “a national investment in effective contact tracing by culturally competent contact tracers from the community” and having them specially trained to work with children, said Fox Cahn, of the Surveillance Technology Oversight Project.
Ultimately, he says, he trusts humans more to prevent epidemics than machines.
“All of the questions a well-trained contact tracer would ask to identify a person’s potential risk of exposure are missing from these types of mass tracking systems,” he said.
This article was originally posted on The Markup and was republished under the Creative Commons Attribution – No Commercial Use – No Derivatives Licence.