Schools Adopt Face Recognition in the Name of Fighting Covid
THIS IS JUST WHAT HAPPENS IN CHINA
A WIRED investigation finds dozens of districts have purchased thermal cameras to monitor fevers that can also identify students and staff.
IN JUNE, THE school board in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, was facing a series of votes on the budget for an elaborate and expensive reopening plan. Among the big-ticket items was a tablet designed to screen students and staff for fevers. The devices were sold by a company named OneScreen, which supplies schools with technology including “smart” whiteboards and attendance apps. But this spring, it had pivoted. Its new product, called GoSafe, could scan foreheads for elevated temperatures and detect when students aren’t wearing masks. It also came with a bonus: “top-of-the-line” facial recognition, as a local vendor described it to the school board.
District officials considered this a selling point. The tablets were pricey—$161,000 for 71 devices—even amid the district’s bulk orders of hand sanitizer and protective equipment. But they would get kids through school doors more efficiently than handheld thermometers. The facial recognition tech offered another benefit: The money would not necessarily go to waste as soon as there was a Covid-19 vaccine. The district could use the devices for other things, like taking attendance or preventing intruders from entering schools.
One school board member, Catherine Cullen, was concerned. Facial recognition technology was new to her, and the features, she noticed, didn’t seem especially relevant to the reopening plan. There were many unknowns, “particularly as it pertains to student privacy, civil liberties, storing and securing the data,” she says in an email.
Administrators encouraged haste. Superintendent Sue Cleveland had been told that the tablets needed to be purchased quickly, lest they fly off the shelves like protective equipment and hand sanitizer had earlier in the spring. “You’re not going to be able to find one anywhere in this country,” she told the board, based on that advice. School buildings could reopen as soon as August. If the district did not have temperature checks in place by then, she added, it risked an outbreak that would force schools to close again. The measure passed 4–1…