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North Ayrshire Schools Introduce Facial Recognition Systems for Pupils

Michael Behr

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North Ayrshire school lunches facial recognition
Is speeding up the school lunch queue worth putting children’s privacy at risk?

A new programme to use facial recognition to allow pupils to pay for school lunches has been introduced across several schools in North Ayrshire.

From October 18th, the nine institutions will use the software to replace previous fingerprint scanners. The system scans pupils faces when they pay for lunch at the till, with their likeness turned into an encrypted digital signature. The data are then checked off against a register on the school’s servers and payments deducted from the pupil’s cashless account.

The company behind the software, CRB Cunninghams, claims this will help save time during lunch rushes, reducing transactions down to five seconds. The system also aims to reduce the likelihood of money being lost or stolen.

In addition, removing the fingerprint scanners will help protect students against Covid.

The company’s managing director David Swanston told the Financial Times: “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.”

An additional 65 schools are looking to introduce the technology.

According to North Ayershire Council, 97% of parents have consented for their children’s data to be used by the facial recognition system. Parents have the option to opt-out of the programme and use a PIN instead.

In addition, a child’s details are deleted when they leave school.


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However, privacy rights campaigners have criticised the move, normalising the use of invasive technologies typically used by police to track criminal suspects.

Director of the privacy group Big Brother Watch Silkie Carlo said to 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.”

In addition, Biometrics Commissioner for England and Wales Fraser Sampson has stated that a less intrusive means of paying for lunches should be used if available.

The use of facial recognition technology has proven controversial, and suffered setbacks and pushbacks. In summer of last year, a trial deployment of facial recognition software by South Wales Police was deemed unlawful on privacy and data protection grounds.

The Information Commissioner’s Office has previously called for a code of practice to govern how facial recognition is deployed.


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Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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