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Scottish Schools Suspend Facial Recognition Due to ICO Inquiries

Michael Behr

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Schools facial recognition
The technology is more commonly used by police and airport security, creating concerns that it’s too intrusive for use in schools.

A programme to use facial recognition on children at nine schools in North Ayrshire has been paused pending an investigation by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

Previous plans would have seen pupils’ faces scanned at the till. Their likeness would have then been turned into a digital hash and checked off against a database. Should they match, payments would then be deducted from the child’s account.

The ICO, which was created to uphold information rights, has urged the use of “less intrusive” approaches where possible.

According to North Ayrshire Council, the plan will be halted for the time being.

“Having received a number of enquiries in recent days, we have temporarily paused the contactless payment system, which uses facial recognition, in our secondary schools from this afternoon while we consider and respond to the enquiries received,” it said in a tweet.

“Pupils using the facial recognition system, who do not already have PINs, will be issued with these on Monday, October 25. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and hope to be in a position to offer a further update in the very near future.”

The new system was supposed to go live just over a week ago, on Monday October 18th. The software would have replaced an existing system that used fingerprint scanners.

The reasoning behind the new system was to speed up lunch queues, with the company behind the software saying it could reduce transactions down to five seconds. It would also be more hygienic than the fingerprint scanners, reducing the risk of Covid infections.

According to the company, another 65 schools were looking to start using the technology.


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Separately, a school in England, Great Academy Ashton, has dropped its plans to implement the facial recognition technology.

The school’s head, David Waugh, noted that the new system would have included a combined fingerprint and facial recognition system, with the facial recognition aspect being dropped due to the ICO investigation.

“The ICO is saying it’s essentially overkill in terms of data security and the use of facial recognition as a data source for catering in schools,” he was quoted as saying in Schoolsweek.

The programme was criticised by privacy rights campaigners, who claimed that the decision normalised the use of invasive surveillance techniques on children.

North Ayrshire Council defended the move, saying that 97% of parents had consented to use the system, with alternative payment methods available for children whose parents hadn’t opted in.

It stressed that children’s data is deleted when they leave the school, and that since the data is stored as an encrypted signature, the children’s likeness isn’t stored in the database.


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Michael Behr

Senior Staff Writer

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