Facial recognition scanning pupils rolled out to school canteens

The technology in place in nine Ayrshire secondaries has been criticised by privacy campaigners.

Facial recognition scanning pupils rolled out to school canteens iStock
Children can scan their faces and have it matched with an on-file picture by the technology before picking up their meals in just five seconds.

Facial recognition has been rolled out to nine schools in Ayrshire with pupils able to scan their faces to pay for lunch.

The system now installed and operational in all secondaries in North Ayrshire has attracted national attention with privacy campaigners raising concerns.

Children can scan their faces and have it matched with an on-file picture by the technology before picking up their meals in just five seconds.

Silkie Carlo of the campaign group Big Brother Watch said: “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.”

The facial recognition technology, installed by CRB Cunninghams, allows children to pick up their meals without any contact with payment systems which the company said is faster.

The system works in a similar way to fingerprint biometrics, but instead of matching a fingerprint template to a pupil account, it matches a “Face Template” to the pupil’s image stored by the school.

The council said that it offered the best solution in the face of Covid-19 and the desire for contactless identification.

Carl Lewis, release manager at CRB Cunninghams, said: “There has been a huge shift in the way schools operate over the past year, especially regarding the way pupils order and pay for their lunches.

“We built Facial Recognition to help schools adapt to these changes and offer a unique and effective enhancement to their lunch service.”

Defend Digital Me and Big Brother Watch have written to the Scottish schools urging them to drop the technology and replace it with “less intrusive means”.

A spokesperson for Defend Digital Me said contactless card payments, chip, PIN, or cash, or for taking a register were all less “invasive” ways of taking payments and the use of facial recognition was “an excessive interference with children’s right to protection of their privacy”.

North Ayrshire Council said more than 97% of pupils, parents and cares provided consent for facial recognition.

Pupils in S4, S5 and S6 have been allowed to provide their own consent while those in S1, S2 and S3 required parental consent.

A spokesperson said: “Pupils often forget their PINs and unfortunately some have also been the victim of PIN fraud, so they are supportive of the planned developments and appreciate the benefits to them.”

The local authority said the speed of the system gives time back to students who can then spend it with their friends or doing lunchtime activities.