Junior David Terach named grand prize winner in essay contest

Boy and girl, smiling.
Junior David Terach, left, won the grand prize in the Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union Bill of Rights Essay Contest. His classmate, Kendra Byrne, took the best-in-school award for Goshen High School.

Goshen High School Junior David Terach is the grand prize winner of the Hudson Valley Chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union Bill of Rights Essay Contest.

The organization reviewed essays from schools across the Hudson Valley. In addition to David receiving the grand prize, junior Kendra Byrne won the best-in-school prize for Goshen High School.

The students entered the essay contest as part of Eric Harris’s AP Language and Composition class which focuses on the use of rhetoric in reading and writing. Students were required to draft an essay that argued for or against the use of facial recognition technology in schools. The contest required critical thinking, writing skills, and knowledge of civil liberties.

“It is an absolute pleasure to work with these students on a daily basis,” said Harris. “Their ability to think critically inspires me daily. Our entire school community is so proud of them.”

The students, accompanied by their AP classmates, were recognized on Friday December 14 at Saint Paul’s Church in Mount Vernon.

View David Terach’s Grand Prize Winning Essay

The technology of facial recognition has been on the rise for many years now, but is it ready for school use? The simple answer is no. Biometric identification’s violation of privacy, susceptibility to being abused, and ineffectiveness compared to alternative options creates an unreliable solution for school security. If relied upon, the technology of facial recognition, in its current state, will be a liability to student safety.

Privacy is a basic human right, and no one can take that away, but facial recognition is trying to. Many fear that “a high-tech security state will erode personal freedom,” (Hecht) and they aren’t wrong. No matter how hard one tries to “stay off the grid,” he or she, “despite the possibility of choosing not to participate… the technology is still being used” (Mudhar). This use of technology is not an option, but an order. Whether you want to be tracked or not, you will be, without any hesitation or way to stop it. As soon as a student walks through his or her school doors, they are tracked forever. Some have suggested that “We need rules that ensure consumers
have knowledge about how their personal information may be used and the ability to say ‘no’ to its collection and retention” (Graham). However, these “rules” do not exist, and until they do, use should be prohibited in schools. Furthermore, facial recognition has even been proven illegal in some cases: “Three Illinois plaintiffs allege that the facial-recognition technology used in the U.S. version of Moments violates that state’s 2008 Biometric Information Privacy Act, which requires companies to get explicit consent to collect biometric data, including facial scans” (Mudhar). If consent is needed, then how could facial recognition provide security, and if consent is not mandatory then it violates the citizens’ rights; therefore, biometric identification is not the answer.

Facial recognition is also highly abusable, creating a very serious problem. Using biometrical identification, “a person’s face can be instantaneously transformed into a unique digital faceprint without any personal engagement, and used for a variety of purposes such as identifying, verifying and tracking individuals” (Long). This may seem very useful in the case of criminals or an offender of some sort, but we are not criminals, we are children. If in the wrong hands this technology allows for students to be tracked wherever they go, both in and out of school. There is no need for this to even be a possibility, schools should not have facial recognition. When asked if the technology could be abused, “facial recognition expert” Alice O’Toole responded, “that’s certainly a possibility” (qtd. in Chang), and even the president of microsoft, Brad Smith, said that there is “potential for abuse” (qtd. in Washington Post). If both the experts and creators say the technology is abusable, why subject students to it? Facial recognition is not the correct choice for our student population.

If we need improved school security, why veer towards biometrical identification? Other options present a much more appealing case. For one, “the efficacy and impact of the technology are not yet fully understood” (Graham). Why are options being considered when the full extent of the technology is yet to be understood? Furthermore, facial identification systems “tend be rather inaccurate” (Gignac). For example, a test showed that the software “mistakenly identified… congressmen as suspected criminals in an arrest database,” (Graham) further proving its inconsistency. A mishap can mean a student locked out of his or her school, or an outsider entering without confrontation. Another issue was discovered at the University of Toronto, where researchers created an algorithm that “can become advanced enough it can dupe the facial-recognition algorithm with almost 100-per-cent accuracy” (Gignac). Student safety cannot be held in the electronic hands of a faulty system that can be “duped” without failure.

Facial recognition is not just outweighed by better options, but would actually be detrimental if placed in a school environment. If other safety protocols are dropped due to reliance on this faulty technology, the number of security breaches will increase, not decrease. So, whether it’s because facial recognition invades privacy, is easily abusable, or has less problematic alternatives, this new technology is being implemented too fast, and is neither ready nor appropriate for school use.

View Kendra Byrne’s Best-In-School Essay

Facial recognition technology has became remarkably popular and prevalent in our daily lives, revolutionizing the way we use technology. We are notified when a picture of us has been posted on Facebook, even when we have not been “tagged” in the photo. With Snapchat filters, we can add dog ears to our heads, swap faces with our friends and “face off” in Snappable games. Apple Inc. has implemented Face ID into its newer iPhone models so we can unlock our phones, login to apps, and even make payments with our faces. While all of these innovations have been made possible by the use of facial recognition technology, its usage goes far beyond the social aspects of our lives. The possibility of implementing facial recognition in schools’ security measures has emerged. Although we may all agree with a need for safety, numerous concerns have been stirred over the privacy, ethics, economics and politics of this matter. As a current high school student, I believe that the prudent and limited use of facial recognition in schools is a reasonable leverage of technology that can afford enhanced safety without violating individual privacy rights.

Understandably, many fear the possibility of violations of the privacy rights of students, namely the Fourth Amendment of the Bill of Rights. This amendment elucidates the prohibition of the unreasonable search and seizure of an individual and his/her private property. Under certain caveats, facial recognition can be used as surveillance in schools in accordance with these defined principles. Carefully crafted and mutually agreed upon use and dissemination agreements should be created between school administration and law enforcement on local, state, and federal levels. These agreements could prevent the abuse of facial recognition technology that would trample on constitutional rights of individuals and erode due process. System administration, implementation, and data storage and use must be carefully defined and readily disclosed. This will allay concerns about the use of facial recognition technology in schools, as use and dissemination information will be shared with all of those impacted, students, teachers, and staff. Like any security tool controlled and used by people, abuse is possible. This can be managed with a robust system of checks and balances, keeping all in charge of the system accountable. The facial recognition system should be strictly limited to only identify actively enrolled individuals, faculty, staff, and intruders, never to be used otherwise. While no legislation currently exists pertaining to the technology’s usage, a use and dissemination agreement would avoid the delay and expense of legislation. Doing so would be a heavy expense — a tech reporter for the Canada Star reporting for Canada reported that to do so, it would cost at least $60 million (Gignac). Therefore, a mutually agreed upon use and dissemination agreement can be a reasonable path to facial technology usage in schools.

Although students possess the right to be protected from overreaching surveillance, facial recognition can not be deemed “unnecessary.” In this post-Columbine world that we live in, the prevalence of school shootings is rising exponentially. Facial recognition technology could reduce these atrocities significantly. The technology is a powerful security tool, utilized in police departments in pursuit of suspects, missing persons, and at security checkpoints at airports. In June of this year, it aided in the identification of the perpetrator of five shooting deaths of Capital Gazette employees in Annapolis (Editorial). Students who have committed any
threats to others and who may have been expelled can be “flagged” in the system so they can be stopped from entering the school as the technology would be able to quickly identify them. Additional threats from adult intruders such as former employees who have been terminated for making threats could also be prevented from entering the school building. If an intruder were to enter a building through an unobserved area, the system would be able to notify the school of an intruder whereas he/she may have gone completely unnoticed by those in the building if the system was not implemented.

Several alternatives exist to increase the safety of schools, however the success and effectiveness of facial recognition technology is difficult to topple. Research done by Facebook officials prove their facial recognition technology can scan images in 0.33 second with an accuracy of 97.35%, nearing the 97.5% rate of humans (Hecht). Facial recognition is less intrusive than common security measure like metal detectors and armed guards, diminishing individual anxieties of the safety of the area. Still, it must be acknowledged that the technology has been proven to disproportionately impact people of color. Studies by Georgetown’s Law Center on Privacy and Technology have determined the systems are “…5 to 10 percent less accurate when trying to identify blacks than when analyzing the facial images of white adults…” (Stone). To guard against any racial disparate treatment, an independent verification process could be initiated to guard against false positives. When the system causes an alert no official action would be taken until it can be independently verified by school officials by checking the facial recognition image against the existing school photo of record.

As most students are under the age of 18, the adults of our nation must show leadership on this issue. It is the duty of all adults to protect society’s children. As members of society we should be participants in everyone’s safety. This means we may need to allow for the loss of some privacy in schools for the well-being of all students, teachers, and staff. With the wise and limited use of facial recognition technology, we can protect future generations in our schools as they acquire the invaluable knowledge, skills, and values to accomplish greater things.