Facial recognition technology is being employed in more UK schools to allow pupils to pay for their meals, according to reports today.
In North Ayrshire Council, a Scottish authority encompassing the Isle of Arran, nine schools are set to begin processing meal payments for school lunches using facial scanning technology.
The authority and the company implementing the technology, CRB Cunninghams, claim the system will help reduce queues and is less likely to spread COVID-19 than card payments and fingerprint scanners, according to the Financial Times.
Speaking to the publication, David Swanston, the MD of supplier CRB Cunninghams, said the cameras verify the child’s identity against “encrypted faceprint templates”, and will be held on servers on-site at the 65 schools that have so far signed up.
North Ayrshire council said 97 per cent of parents had given their consent for the new system, although some said they were unsure whether their children had been given enough information to make their decision.
Seemingly unaware of the controversy surrounding facial recognition, education solutions provider CRB Cunninghams announced its introduction of the technology in schools in June as the “next step in cashless catering.”
Privacy campaigners voiced concerns that moving the technology into schools merely for payment was needlessly normalising facial recognition.
“No child should have to go through border style identity checks just to get a school meal,” Silkie Carlo of the campaign group Big Brother Watch told The Reg.
“We are supposed to live in a democracy, not a security state. This is highly sensitive, personal data that children should be taught to protect, not to give away on a whim. This biometrics company has refused to disclose who else children’s personal information could be shared with and there are some red flags here for us. “Facial recognition technology typically suffers from inaccuracy, particularly for females and people of colour, and we’re extremely concerned about how this invasive and discriminatory system will impact children.”
Those concerned about the security of schools systems now storing children’s biometric data will not be assured by the fact that educational establishments have become targets for cyber-attacks.
In March, the Harris Federation, a not-for-profit charity responsible for running 50 primary and secondary academies in London and Essex, became the latest UK education body to fall victim to ransomware. The institution said it was “at least” the fourth multi-academy trust targeted just that month alone. Meanwhile, South and City College Birmingham earlier this year told 13,000 students that all lectures would be delivered via the web because a ransomware attack had disabled its core IT systems.
The students probably gave their consent because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t get any lunch. The problem with biometrics is that they don’t change. So if someone steals yours, then it’s stolen forever. It’s not a password you can reset.