Nine schools have started receiving payments from children for lunch by using facial recognition software to automatically identify each student.
The system, which North Ayrshire schools say will speed up queues and reduce COVID-19 risks from card payments and fingerprint scanners, is launched today.
But some parents and activists warn that this normalizes children’s exposure to biometric surveillance, and complained that they were not convinced students were adequately informed about the risks to privacy.
“It’s the fastest way to recognize someone at the checkout,” David Swanston, managing director of CRB Cunninghams – the company that provided the system – told the Financial Times newspaper.
“In a high school, you have about 25 minutes to potentially serve 1,000 students. So we need a fast flow at the point of sale,” he added, telling the newspaper that the transaction time average with the system was five seconds per student.
According to the North Ayrshire Council, 97% of children or their parents had consented to the use of facial recognition in schools.
The Education Department says it does not monitor schools’ use of technology.
Similar uses in American schools have led states like New York to temporarily ban the technology.
Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics Commissioner for England and Wales – whose predecessors complained that facial recognition technology is not covered by the same laws as DNA and fingerprints – said that if there is a less intrusive way for children to pay for their lunches, then it should be used.
The use of live facial recognition systems for police can be traced back to 2015, when Leicestershire Police tested a system in queues to participate in the Download Festival at Donnington Park.
The non-live versions used for mugshot matching and for authenticating people to log in to their cell phones introduce fewer privacy concerns as there is more control over which face is matched.
Activists fear that the technology is exposing those in the crowd to potential arrest without reasonable cause.
Despite the outcry that followed this event – that the technology was not regulated on a par with other biometrics, such as fingerprints and DNA, although it was potentially even more invasive – none legislation has not been introduced to put it on a statutory equal footing.
The system is used today in a range of environments where one wishes to identify individuals in a crowd, from electronic gates at airports to the Notting Hill carnival.
An independent study commissioned by the Metropolitan Police found that the system is 81% inaccurate.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: “It standardizes biometric identity control for something mundane. You don’t need to resort to an airport. [technology] for children who take their lunch. “