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Scottish schools serving up fresh privacy debate for lunch with facial recognition payment

Categories Biometrics News  |  Facial Recognition  |  Schools
Scottish schools serving up fresh privacy debate for lunch with facial recognition payment

Pupils at nine schools in Scotland have started paying for school lunches via facial recognition, thought to be the first time in UK schools. According to the local council, 97 percent of children are enrolled in the scheme which promises to speed up payments and be totally contactless and more secure. Critics are calling it intrusive and disproportionate and have questioned the validity of consent.

The Financial Times first reported that thousands of school children in North Ayrshire will start using the system installed by CRB Cunninghams, which first ran a pilot of the biometric technology in Gateshead (England) in the summer of 2020.

The Guardian reports that the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has now stepped in to discuss a less invasive alternative to facial recognition. An ICO spokesperson said, “Data protection law provides additional protections for children, and organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so.

“Organisations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner. We are aware of the introduction, and will be making inquiries with North Ayrshire council.”

Fraser Sampson, the Biometrics Commissioner for England and Wales, a role separate to that of the ICO (for now), said “If there is a less intrusive way, that should be used,” and that just because schools can use the technology does not mean they should, reports the FT.

Parents create an account and load money via the iPayimpact platform. The camera system reduces transaction time to five seconds, matching pupils presenting themselves with a hash stored on a server. Managing director of CRB Cunninghams, David Swanston, told the FT, “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.”

The system is quicker than fingerprint biometrics and does not require a card or PIN. North Ayrshire council told the FT that pupils forget their PINs and are even victims of PIN fraud and that 97 percent of children or their parents had given consent to use the new system. The council has produced information on biometrics and the new system. 65 schools are part of the scheme.

Fingerprints are already in use for similar purposes elsewhere, but campaign groups have criticized the progression to facial recognition. Big Brother Watch’s Silkie Carlo told the FT, “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.”

CRB Cunninghams is also offering pre-ordering of meals by app and the iPayimpact platform to be used for all payments parents may need to make to schools. The North Ayrshire website states how the platform can even be used to monitor what meals a child purchases.

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