Local School Buys Controversial Camera Software

[originally written October 31, 2019]

by: Irene Silva

Putnam City School District has recently installed facial recognition software in all its schools. The software, dubbed Better Tomorrow, was developed by Israeli startup AnyVision Interactive Technologies Ltd. It is used by the Israeli government at checkpoints in the West Bank, and to secretly track Palestinians, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

AnyVision’s flagship product is described as “the world’s most advanced Tactical Surveillance System” by the Israel Export Institute, an Israeli government website. It uses technology to “detect, track and recognize a Person-of-Interest” with a 99% accuracy rate.

Putnam City already had a fleet of 900 cameras, 2,000 motion detection devices and 200 sound detection devices. This software cost the schools an additional $20,000. It was funded by a school security bond issue.

“As a Putnam City alumna and parent, I don’t think it’s terrible,” said Sarah Hahn, a local business owner. “I like the idea of my kids not being raped or murdered at school.”

Hahn went on to say this level of security does feel invasive, but she feels it necessary until a shift in attitudes towards mental health and systemic reforms are made to the educational system.

Image from Genetech.com

The school district has its own police department. Putnam City Schools Campus Police Chief Mark Stout told KFOR, on Aug. 4, that dispatch monitors the cameras around the clock.

Stout also told KWTV, on Aug. 21, that a “watch list” is made up of former students that the district has identified as “potential threats.” This is done at Principal Carole Buhr’s request, according to Stout.

Some local teachers, however, have voiced opposition to this kind of technology.

“I have never heard a coworker, at any point, mention facial recognition as a way to protect our schools,” said Jeffrey Moeder a public school teacher from Norman. “Spend the money on something beneficial like counselors, security officers and doors that lock.”

“Overall, this is definitely a negative,” said Jonathan Marshall, a former public school teacher who now works for a charter school. Marshall cites that this technology disproportionately impacts students of color, along with admins admitting to using it for monitoring and discipline purposes. “This is a super abusable and problematic technology that doesn’t belong in schools.”

Facial recognition software technology is banned in several places. Oakland and San Francisco have forbidden all government agencies from using it for any reason. State legislators in Massachusetts and Washington have also proposed bans. California has banned all law enforcement using such software for the next three years. The ACLU supports a national ban on facial recognition technology as part of its anti-surveillance campaign.

An AnyVision spokesperson told Fast Company magazine in August that 40 countries are clients but would not disclose them for privacy reasons. The company has stated that they will only trade with established democratic governments.

When AnyVision won Microsoft backing five months ago, Max Constant, AnyVision’s chief commercial officer, told Bloomberg it was as a “tool for good.”

AnyVision has also recently attempted business in Macau and Hong Kong. Both places are special administrative regions of China. The company says the Hong Kong protests have since made them reconsider their future in the region, according to Fast Company.

Other firms have also released similar software.

Rob Glaser, founder of 1990s streaming format RealVideo, has created a facial recognition tool called SAFR that he’s giving away to any school district that requests it.

WIRED magazine reports that Panasonic’s FacePRO facial recognition technology was recently installed in a school of 600 students. The $200,000 camera system was installed in West Platte, Missouri. The installation was overseen by TriCorps Security, an Oklahoma City company.

“I have a real problem with this type of security,” said Donald Arrowood III, a mechanical engineer from Edmond. He lists its use in businesses, workplaces and casinos. “We need to either stop it altogether or learn to live.”

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