Tip Sheets

‘Omnipresent surveillance’: Facial recognition may transform schools into prisons

Media Contact

Jeff Tyson

The Lockport City School District in upstate New York has adopted facial recognition technology to monitor who is on school grounds, becoming the first public school district in the state to do so.

Stephen Wicker

Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

Stephen Wicker, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is an expert in information network privacy issues. He says facial recognition threatens to turn schools into “medium security facilities,” which may have lasting consequences.

Wicker says:

The use of facial recognition in the Lockport City School District highlights a pair of problems in our discourse about public surveillance. The first is a lack of technical understanding – the proposed system will use pre-existing and clearly attributed digital images as a database by which individuals will be identified. The problems of bias and racism are real, but minimal.

“The real problem lies with the second issue – omnipresent surveillance. Do we want education to be a realm of free play? A safe zone for personal development? Or do we want education to take place in what amounts to a medium security facility – a prison from which the prisoners can go home at night?

“Foucault described the primary effect of surveillance as inducing ‘in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.’ The result was what he called ‘docile bodies.’ Is this what we want for our children? We certainly want them to be safe, but facial recognition may be a cheap and easy means for securing schools that will have dire long-term consequences.”

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