'Ariella Russcol specializes in drama at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in Queens, New York, and the senior’s performance on this April afternoon didn’t disappoint. While the library is normally the quietest room in the school, her ear-piercing screams sounded more like a horror movie than study hall. But they weren’t enough to set off a small microphone in the ceiling that was supposed to detect aggression.
A few days later, at the Staples Pathways Academy in Westport, Connecticut, junior Sami D’Anna inadvertently triggered the same device with a less spooky sound — a coughing fit from a lingering chest cold. As she hacked and rasped, a message popped up on its web interface: “StressedVoice detected.”
“There we go,” D’Anna said with amusement, looking at the screen. “There’s my coughs.”
The students were helping ProPublica test an aggression detector that’s used in hundreds of schools, health care facilities, banks, stores and prisons worldwide, including more than 100 in the U.S. Sound Intelligence, the Dutch company that makes the software for the device, plans to open an office this year in Chicago, where its chief executive will be based.
California-based Louroe Electronics, which has loaded the software on its microphones since 2015, advertises the devices in school safety magazines and at law enforcement conventions, and it said it has between 100 and 1,000 customers for them. Louroe’s marketing materials say the detection software enables security officers to “engage antagonistic individuals immediately, resolving the conflict before it turns into physical violence.”
In the wake of the shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school and other massacres, U.S. schools are increasingly receptive to such pitches. Congress approved more than $25 million for school security improvements last year, and one analyst expects new technology could augment the $2.7 billion market for education security products. Besides Sound Intelligence, South Korea-based Hanwha Techwin, formerly part of Samsung, makes a similar “scream detection” product that’s been installed in American schools. U.K.-based Audio Analytic used to sell its aggression- and gunshot-detection software to customers in Europe and the U.S., including Cisco Systems Inc.’s professional security division. However, an Audio Analytic spokesman told ProPublica that it has since changed its business model and stopped selling the aggression detector software.
By deploying surveillance technology in public spaces like hallways and cafeterias, device makers and school officials hope to anticipate and prevent everything from mass shootings to underage smoking. Sound Intelligence also markets add-on packages to recognize the sounds of gunshots, car alarms and broken glass, while Hauppauge, New York-based Soter Technologies develops sensors that determine if students are vaping in the school bathroom. The Lockport school district in upstate New York is planning a facial-recognition system to identify intruders on campus.'
Read more: Aggression Detectors: The Unproven, Invasive Surveillance Technology Schools Are Using to Monitor Students
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