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US schools are using smart cameras to target students without face masks

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A US school district with 95,000 students switched during the pandemic to using its “swarm” of automated surveillance tech to identify children who showed up at school without wearing a mask.

The “smart cameras,” produced by Motorola’s Avigilon and capable of facial recognition and gun detection, were catching even those students who were wearing their masks pulled under the nose.

Avigilon originally sold the surveillance network to the Fulton County, Georgia school district several years ago as a way to prevent mass shootings. With the pandemic, the company pivoted to adding a “no mask detection” capability to their cameras, said to be powered by AI tech.

There has been a steady rise in the number of US schools that use security cameras, from just under 20% two decades ago to over 80% today. And the latest varieties are considered “smart” since the technology powering these cameras can detect and collect biometric data and also perform tasks like body temperature checking.

Automated facial recognition-based surveillance is considered to be the most egregious part of the many privacy-invasive measures that schools introduced during the pandemic, both on campuses and via the software used for online classes.

And like privacy and other rights advocates have been warning all along, the danger of this technology remaining in use even after masks and other mandates end is real.

In Fulton, students weren’t even informed that their compliance with the mask requirements would be monitored by using AI cameras. Judging by reports, the school district decided to ditch any transparency around a policy as controversial as using dragnet surveillance to control students’ behavior. The danger of data breaches and leaks is also highly relevant to this kind of biometric information collection.

The district’s emergency operations coordinator Paul Hildreth seemed unbothered by any of that, telling the media instead that he was “not interested” in students’ reaction – but rather in their compliance, and added that they “didn’t have to like it,” because the schools decided this was the right thing to do.

A growing number of other school districts also use surveillance technology; some of them, like Fayette County, Georgia spend half a million dollars to buy Chinese Hikvision cameras.

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