The New York State legislature on Wednesday passed a bill which places a moratorium on the use of biometric identification technologies, including facial recognition, in schools until July 2022, becoming the first state in the US to halt the use of facial recognition tech in schools. The bill — S5140B — sponsored by senator Brian Kavanagh, also directs the state’s commissioner of education to conduct a study on the use of biometric identifying technology. It will now be delivered to the state’s governor Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law.

The decision comes a month after, rights group, the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against the New York State Education Department for approving facial recognition technology to be used at the Lockport City Schools last year. The lawsuit aims to have the department’s approval of the system vacated and revoked, and have it direct Lockport to deactivate its facial recognition system.

“This is especially important as schools across the state begin to acknowledge the experiences of Black and Brown students being policed in schools and funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline. Facial recognition is notoriously inaccurate especially when it comes to identifying women and people of color,” Stefanie Coyle, deputy director of the education policy centre at NYCLU said in a statement, welcoming the move.

“For children, whose appearances change rapidly as they grow, biometric technologies’ accuracy is even more questionable. False positives, where the wrong student is identified, can result in traumatic interactions with law enforcement, loss of class time, disciplinary action, and potentially a criminal record,” she added.

The backlash against facial recognition tech in the US

The protests in the US against racial discrimination, following the murder of George Floyd at the hands of police, has bring to the fore, once again, just how discriminatory facial recognition technology can be, especially towards people people of colour and other underrepresented communities. The protests have forced companies to take a stand against the technology. Microsoft has said that it will not sell the tech to police in the US until a federal law, while Amazon has committed to doing the same, albeit just for a year. IBM has said that it will altogether stop offering “general-purpose facial recognition and analysis software”.

Members of the United States have introduced a bill which prohibits federal agencies and officials from acquiring, possessing, accessing, and even using “any biometric surveillance system”, such as facial recognition technology. The bill even stops federal agencies from using information derived by such systems operated by other entities. It also proposes to withhold federal funding through the Byrne grant program for state and local governments that use the technology.

Boston has banned the use of facial recognition technology by the city’s government, and prohibited any city official from obtaining the technology from third parties.