UK Schools Normalizing Biometric Collection By Using Facial Recognition For Meal Payments

Subjecting students to surveillance tech is nothing new. Most schools have had cameras installed for years. Moving students from desks to laptops allows schools to monitor internet use, even when students aren’t on campus. Bringing police officers into schools to participate in disciplinary problems allows law enforcement agencies to utilize the same tech and analytics they deploy against the public at large. And if cameras are already in place, it’s often trivial to add facial recognition features.

The same tech that can keep kids from patronizing certain retailers is also being used to keep deadbeat kids from scoring free lunches. While some local governments in the United States are trying to limit the expansion of surveillance tech in their own jurisdictions, governments in the United Kingdom seem less concerned about the mission creep of surveillance technology.

Some students in the UK are now able to pay for their lunch in the school canteen using only their faces. Nine schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland, started taking payments using biometric information gleaned from facial recognition systems on Monday, according to the Financial Times. [alt link]

The technology is being provided by CRB Cunningham, which has installed a system that scans the faces of students and cross-checks them against encrypted faceprint templates stored locally on servers in the schools. It’s being brought in to replace fingerprint scanning and card payments, which have been deemed less safe since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Financial Times report, 65 schools have already signed up to participate in this program, which has supposedly dropped transaction times at the lunchroom register to less than five seconds per student. I assume that’s an improvement, but it seems fingerprints/cards weren’t all that slow and there are plenty of options for touchless payment if schools need somewhere to spend their cafeteria tech money.

CRB says more than 97% of parents have consented to the collection and use of their children’s biometric info to… um… move kids through the lunch line faster. I guess the sooner you get kids used to having their faces scanned to do mundane things, the less likely they’ll be to complain when demands for info cross over into more private spaces.

The FAQ on the program makes it clear it’s a single-purpose collection governed by a number of laws and data collection policies. Parents can opt out at any time and all data is deleted after opt out or if the student leaves the school. It’s good this is being handled responsibly but, like all facial recognition tech, mistakes can (and will) be made. When these inevitably occur, hopefully the damage will be limited to a missed meal.

The FAQ handles questions specifically about this program. The other flyer published by the North Ayrshire Council explains nothing and implies facial recognition is harmless, accurate, and a positive addition to students’ lives.

We’re introducing Facial Recognition!

This new technology is now available for a contactless meal service!

Following this exciting announcement, the flyer moves on to discussing biometric collections and the tech that makes it all possible. It accomplishes this in seven short “land of contrasts” paragraphs that explain almost nothing and completely ignore the inherent flaws in these systems as well as the collateral damage misidentification can cause.

The section titled “The history of biometrics” contains no history. Instead, it says biometric collections are already omnipresent so why worry about paying for lunch with your face?

Whilst the use of biometric recognition has been steadily growing over the last decade or so, these past couple of years have seen an explosion in development, interest and vendor involvement, particularly in mobile devices where they are commonly used to verify the owner of the device before unlocking or making purchases.

If students want to learn more (or anything) about the history of biometrics, I guess they’ll need to do their own research. Because this is the next (and final) paragraph of the “history of biometrics” section:

We are delighted to offer this fast and secure identification technology to purchase our delicious and nutritious school meals

Time is a flattened circle, I guess. The history of biometrics is the present. And the present is the future of student payment options, of which there are several. But these schools have put their money on facial recognition, which will help them raise a generation of children who’ve never known a life where they weren’t expected to use their bodies to pay for stuff.

Source: UK Schools Normalizing Biometric Collection By Using Facial Recognition For Meal Payments | Techdirt

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