Security & Safety

Windows Edition of Free Facial Recognition Launched

Are schools ready for the use of facial recognition? RealNetworks, which recently announced plans to make its new SAFR facial recognition software free to K-12 schools, has launched its Windows version. The program already runs on Mac and iOS. The company said it would make the application available without charge to schools in the United States and Canada to enhance school safety by helping front office people recognize staff, students and visitors in real time.

To address privacy concerns related to the use of this software, the company has also released guidance for schools.

According to the company, SAFR adheres to "privacy by design," a concept introduced decades ago to describe an organization's commitment to privacy in its systems and business processes, to ensure strong data privacy practices and give people personal control over their information.

In the case of facial recognition, RealNetworks advised schools to begin possible implementation by communicating with stakeholders — parents, staff and students — to solicit "thoughts and concerns."

If the decision is made to move forward with deployment, the guidance suggested, those same stakeholders need to be notified of the installation "and "told precisely what data will be collected and how it will be used."

The company recommended that schools obtain "explicit consent," which goes beyond simply posting a sign to the effect that anybody entering the premises agrees to be photographed. A better approach, the guidance said, would be to have everybody sign a document stating that they agree "to be recorded so that my face can be matched to a database of people allowed to enter this campus. I understand that my data will not be shared with any third parties and will not be retained for more than one year." And when a user wants to revoke consent, the data should be immediately "removed from the system and destroyed."

The best practices also touched on data security (make sure it's "password-protected, encrypted and [accessible] by a select group of ... users"), data retention (keep it as short as possible) and transparency (make sure those affected by the system know about updates and changes to school policy).

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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