RealNetworks, the Seattle company best known for pioneering streaming media in the early days of the web, is deploying a surprising new product today. The company said it will offer a new facial recognition technology, called SAFR, for free to K-12 schools to help upgrade their on-site security systems.
SAFR can be used with the same cameras that traditional surveillance systems to recognize students, staff, and people visiting schools. RealNetworks said that in addition to security, the tool can also help with record-keeping and "campus monitoring." The technology is compatible with Mac, iOS, Android, and Windows.
"SAFR from RealNetworks is highly accurate facial recognition software powered by artificial intelligence," the company explains on the SAFR site. "It works with existing IP cameras and readily available hardware to match faces in real-time. Schools can stay focused and better analyze potential threats such as expelled students, and those who pose a threat from within and outside the school."
“We feel that's going to enhance the security of schools but also lead to more convenience, a simple way of entering a school campus,” RealNetworks Chief Technology Officer Reza Rassool explained.
The ACLU has been vocal in its criticism of facial recognition technology and said there are big red flags with this program.
"I think often it's put out there by well-intentioned people but the impacts are often felt by vulnerable communities," said Shankar Narayan, the technology and liberty project director with the ACLU or Washington.
Developers said they understand those fears but said individual districts control the data. Narayan worries a system like this might keep some parents from coming to campus “what are these systems recording, who gets the data for what purpose is that data going to be used?”
Narayan said undocumented immigrants or parents with a criminal history might be hesitant to come to their child’s school.
RealNetworks said they understand that some people might be a little skittish with the technology and that’s why they believe the program should be voluntary.
The company said they've been inundated with schools interested in the software. It comes with no guarantees but they hope it will be a step towards convenience and, most importantly, towards safety.