Victoria enacts rules for deploying facial recognition in public schools

Public schools in the Australian state of Victoria will require approval from parents, students, and the Department of Education to use facial recognition technology, local publication The Age reports.

The Department of Education created new rules after a review found the use and storage of biometric data poses a risk. Victoria Education Minister James Merlino criticized Australia’s federal government for awarding LoopLearn a $500,000 (roughly US$356,000) grant to bring its facial recognition solution for schools to market.

“I remain concerned about any roll out of this initiative. The fact that Scott Morrison is supporting this Big Brother style system in our classroom does not change that,” says Merlino. “Teachers are best placed to record student attendance, not robots.”

Consent to use facial recognition must be explicit and informed, and the Department of Education will only give its blessing to any deployment after the school has performed a rigorous privacy assessment, according to the report.

LoopLearn’s technology is being trialed in Victorian private schools, and trials had been planned for government schools, but those pilots have been scuttled. The Melbourne-based startup says its service saves teachers up to 2.5 hours per week, or 30 minutes a day, by removing the need for them to take attendance.

Student images are deleted after they have been matched, and the company has followed the department’s guidance for schools, according to LoopLearn Co-founder Zoe Milne.

“Having gone through this process a number of times, we are yet to find a parent who feels uncomfortable with LoopLearn after we explain the safeguards and privacy of the system, and the significant benefit that our technology provides to ensuring their children are safe,” Milne says.

State Information Commissioner Sven Bluemmel previously told The Age that the loss of privacy outweighs the technology’s benefits, asking, “Do we want our children to feel like it’s normal to be constantly under surveillance?”

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