C: Pixabay

UK schools now using facial recognition in canteens

Controversial facial recognition software is to be trialled in nine schools in North Ayrhsire in Scotland starting from today (Monday October 18th) according to a report in the Financial Times.

Supporters of the software say it is the quickest and most covid-secure form of biometric software, and hope it will speed up canteen queues by scanning the faces of school children at the tills. However privacy campaigners have voiced concerns that the move is normalizing biometric surveillance, asking: Is it worth swapping privacy simply for a faster queue?

David Swanston, the managing director of CBR Cunninghams, the company who installed the software in the schools, said it was “the fastest way of recognising someone at the till.”

“In a secondary school you have around about a 25-minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils. So we need fast throughput at the point of sale, Mr Swanston told the Financial Times . He added that the software would reduce the average transaction time by five seconds for each pupil.

However, Silkie Carlo, of the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the use of the technology was unnecessary.

“It’s normalising biometric identity checks for something that is mundane. You don’t need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch,” he said.

According to North Ayrshire Council, 97 per cent of children or their parents had given their consent to the new system. However, according to The Financial Times, some parents were unsure if their children had been given sufficient information to make their decision.

Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics Commissioner for England and Wales, questioned the move. Sampson said that schools should employ “a less intrusive way” if possible. Biometric identifying technology has been the cause of uproar elsewhere in the world after being introduced in schools. In Sweden, one municipality has been fined for trialling the scheme, while authorities in New York state banned facial recognition software in schools pending an assessment of the implications for privacy.

Facial recognition systems of various types are becoming more prevalent across the world. While schools in the US have been installing  such systems for years, this is usually done as a security measure. Just last week, Moscow introduced facial recognition payments in its metro system, with activists voicing worries that the technology could be used to track and identify protestors.

In the European Union, politicians and advocacy groups have called for a ban on the technology, arguing that any potential benefits are outweighed by the downsides.

On social media, some argued that the facial recognition software in question does not “save actual details of someone’s face onto a pc” however other parents voiced opposition to its use.

“And what exactly are they in a hurry for [an] extra minute at play time [?],” one Facebook user asked, while numerous commenters said they would not approve of such a move: “I will not let my daughter get this […] not a chance”.

Another concerned parent added: “So this is actually happening? For school meals, seriously? Better not be at my kid’s school.”

 

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