Schools halt canteen facial recognition rollout amid concerns

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

Schools halt canteen facial recognition rollout amid concerns 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.

The roll out of facial recognition systems to nine schools in Ayrshire has been paused after concerns were raised with the UK’s information watchdog.

The system which had been installed and was operational in all secondaries in North Ayrshire attracted national attention with privacy campaigners claiming it was unnecessarily normalising biometric identity checks.

The software allowed children to scan their faces and have it matched with an on-file picture by the technology before picking up their meals in just five seconds.

Two campaign groups, Defend Digital Me and Big Brother Watch, wrote to the Scottish schools urging them to drop the technology and replace it with “less intrusive means”.

Defend Digital Me said: “A wise decision from Scotland’s North Ayrshire Council to revert to a less privacy intrusive method of processing children’s cashless payments in schools. Let’s hope it’s a lasting choice.”

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the independent authority set up to uphold information rights in the public interest, said it had met with North Ayrshire Council to discuss its use of facial recognition technology.

An ICO spokesperson said organisations using facial recognition technology (FRT) must comply with data protection law before, during and after its use.

The legislation has additional protections for children and the ICO said careful consideration had to be given to whether the collection of biometric data was necessary and proportionate.

A spokesperson said: “Organisations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner.

“We have met with North Ayrshire Council to discuss its use of FRT in schools. The council has since confirmed that it is pausing the use of the technology.

“Anyone who feels that their personal data has been processed in a manner that is unlawful can raise a complaint directly with the ICO.”

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

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

The council cited pupils often forgetting their PINs or being the victims of fraud as reasons for them being supportive of the plans.

A spokesperson for North Ayrshire Council said: “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 while we consider and respond to the enquiries received.”