Schools to use facial recognition software to take children's lunch money

·3 min read
One council in Scotland has introduced facial recognition software for children's school lunches. (Stock image: Getty)
One council in Scotland has introduced facial recognition software for children's school lunches. (Stock image: Getty)

Schools in Scotland are to start using facial recognition software to allow pupils to pay for their lunches, it has been reported. 

The software scans pupils' faces as they queue for food at lunchtimes then matches them off against a database and is touted as helping implement an entirely cashless, contactless system.

But according to a report in the Financial Times, privacy campaigners have voiced concerns that the technology "normalises" biometric checking for something as mundane as buying lunch. 

The newspaper reported that the system is set to be installed in nine sites in North Ayrshire by a company called CRB Cunninghams, an education solutions provider. 

A member of the UK Border Agency (name not given) has his face scanned on the new facial recognition system at Manchester Airport.   (Photo by Dave Thompson - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images)
Facial recognition is used in airports but privacy campaigners say it's unnecessary in schools. (Stock image: Getty)

On the company's website, it showcases its introduction of facial recognition, saying it makes lunchtimes more efficient. 

It says: "The implementation of Facial Recognition in secondary schools allows for a true contactless solution to lunchtime payments, this biometric method enhances the speed of service and retains the security of fingerprints, whilst eliminating the requirement to physically touch a scanner making school meals purchases completely contactless."

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It adds: "Our contactless biometric method of payment is helping UK schools to increase the efficiency of lunchtime payments, our technology helps schools to achieve this by allowing till operators to serve a larger number of students in a shorter amount of time."

Facial recognition software is used at airports as well as in other security settings, but privacy campaigners say it is unnecessary for something like school lunchtimes.

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Silkie Carlo, from the campaign group Big Brother Watch, told the FT: ‘It’s normalising biometric identity check for something that is mundane."

In an announcement in August, North Ayrshire Council said it would be introducing facial recognition in secondary schools for lunch transactions from October, in a move that would help make school purchases completely cashless. 

In an FAQ document relating specifically to facial recognition the council said the move would help to speed up service and remove the need to carry cash or an alternative method of payment like a card, which could be lost or stolen.

"Additionally, in light of the COVID pandemic, the process eliminates the need to physically touch equipment, making the purchase of school meals completely contactless and safe," it said.

The document sought to reassure parents that facial registrations could not be used by any other agency and would be deleted when a student left school. 

It also said an alternative method would be available for parents who did not want to give permission for their child to participate with facial recognition.

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