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Facial recognition in schools: systems deployed in Europe and the US amid privacy concerns

UW-Madison renews Honorlock contract
Categories Biometrics News  |  Facial Recognition  |  Schools
Facial recognition in schools: systems deployed in Europe and the US amid privacy concerns

New facial recognition systems are being deployed across school campuses around the world, while others are being removed amidst privacy concerns. In Russia, dozens of schools are now testing the technology, while similar trials were stopped in North Ayrshire, UK after campaigners prompted the country’s data privacy watchdog to intervene. Also, PontoiD’s face biometrics systems were deployed in two schools in Brazil, and the University of Wisconsin–Madison recently renewed its exam-proctoring software contract with Honorlock.

Russians schools test biometric access control

Several schools in the country have been testing facial recognition, particularly for access control, according to NtechLab CEO Andrei Telenkov.

“We have been working with several dozen schools, including in the Far East,” he explained.

“The so-called black lists are employed in schools so that people who are wanted by the authorities or potentially dangerous, will not be able to enter the premises by any means,” he said.

Telenkov also said that, while some parents opposed the deployment of the technology, the surveillance system’s collection of “silhouettes and actions” data was performed anonymously.

NtechLab’s face biometrics technology was also recently deployed in Moscow’s metro system.

UK schools cancel face recognition pilots

Nine schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland, launched a face biometrics system pilot last week to enable pupils to make contactless payments for their lunches.

The technology was provided by CRB Cunninghams, a cashless catering company, which is also behind the deployment of facial recognition systems in other schools across the UK.

Now, at least two of them are reversing their plans to use the technology, according to Schools Week, instead choosing to use fingerprint biometrics.

The decision was made after privacy advocates prompted the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) opinions on the matter.

“Organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so,” ICO said.

The commissioner also added schools should consider “using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner.”

Biometric surveillance in the UK: balancing privacy and comfort

A recent article by The Guardian has shown a consistent trend of mixed feelings in regards to the adoption of face biometrics systems in the UK.

The piece covers the recent U-turn in the deployment of CRB Cunninghams’ technology in schools and quotes privacy expert Stephanie Hare as saying the use of children’s biometric data is a “disproportionate” way to make lunch queues quicker. Further, Hare suggests the normalization of using the body to transact could condition children to accept the technology without question.

The article then examined the use of facial recognition systems in authoritarian regimes, as well as more “benign” applications, such as the recent Eurostar trials or the FinGo pilots in Manchester.

Davies concluded his piece by quoting Professor Sandra Wachter, a data ethics expert at the Oxford Internet Institute.

“The idea is that as soon as something is developed, it has a place in society,” she said, referring to face biometrics systems.

“But sometimes the price we pay is too high.”

PontoiD’s face biometrics deployed in Brazil

The technology has been installed in two separate schools to provide biometrics-powered access control.

PontoiD was paid 900,000 reais (roughly US$162,000) for delivering the technology, which according to Rest of the World, was deployed last June without informing parents or students in advance.

The biometric system saw the registration of students’ faces upon arrival, which was then used to grant them access to the school’s facilities. When they passed through the access control system, a text message was sent to parents, directors, and school staff.

Brazil’s district’s secretary of education Alex Carvalho said the technology will improve attendance and safety, but with the results from trials not yet disclosed, the lack of transparency beyond the deployment has reportedly been a cause of concern for many parents.

UW-Madison renews Honorlock contract

The renewed contract for online exam proctoring featuring facial recognition was reported by Government Technology and is aimed at reducing academic misconduct.

From a technical standpoint, Honorlock uses artificial intelligence (AI), facial detection software, and eye-tracking technology to spot behaviors that may indicate students are cheating on their tests.

The new contract should now cover 20,000 users and cost UW-Madison $267,800.

The university said the software may also be utilized for students sitting for exams at the institution’s facilities.

The move comes a year after Honorlock’s proctoring software was taken offline after a cyberattack on the platform.

COVID rules prompt surveillance concerns

Students are pushing back against the collection of medical information and other measures American colleges are taking to prevent the spread of COVID, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The student body at Oakland University in Michigan rejected an attempt to make wearable “bio-buttons” tracking heart rate, temperature and respiration mandatory.

Contact tracing apps and online proctoring technologies are also being criticized for increasing surveillance of students, while mask mandates at schools with near-universal vaccination rates are also causing complaints.

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