New facial recognition technology breaches privacy of students in schools across Scotland, UK

New facial recognition technology breaches privacy of students in schools across Scotland, UK

Lara Hamidi
Principal researcher at ImpACT International


Students in Scotland are now able to pay for their school lunches using biometric facial recognition systems. Amidst increased COVID-19 pressures and elevated technology systems. On Monday, nine schools in North Ayrshire, have introduced facial recognition to their school lunch halls. These facial recognition scanners, provided by CRB Cunninghams, were introduced by the schools in an attempt to speed up the process of paying for lunches when arriving at the tills by scanning the students faces.

Since the announcement, privacy campaigners have spoken up against this move, questioning whether young students should be exposed to such an invasive piece of technology. Although this risks the privacy of students, schools trialing this system have justified the move as it will provide a covid safe payment system where queues are subsequently sped up. However, due to lack of information, some parents were unsatisfied stating that not enough details were given about the technology.

The technology identifies faces through busy crowds, which further amplifies the issue of nonconsensual information gathering.

The biometric technology system does operate in many cases without the consent of students or their parents, due to its live function, for this reason, such a system should be reviewed effectively before its implementation. Ultimately, this technology could have severe effects on students' mental health and comfort in their school campus, seeing as they could feel intimidated or uneasy with the new addition to their canteen tills.

This system is particularly invasive as it differs from the previous ones installed in Gateshead community schools in 2020, as this live element identifies faces through busy crowds, which further amplifies the issue of nonconsensual information gathering. With this, the technology is reducing the average transaction time at the paying tills to five seconds per student.

This move towards the facial recognition of school children can additionally serve as an early indication of the UK breaking away from the EU’s strict data protection policies. This is emphasised with authorities in both Sweden and France banning the use of facial recognition in schools in order to protect the nation's school kids from harmful technology, whilst Belgium and Luxembourg have opposed the use of facial recognition technology.[1]

Ultimately, Implementing high surveillance technology in North Ayrshire schools does fit in Britain's ten-year plan to become a global Artificial Intelligence superpower. Unfortunately, these new surveillance tools are not seen as a breach of an individual's data protection rights, rather are motivated by the vision of building the tools to boost Britains new economy.[2]

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulations, defined as the GDPR, is made up of seven main principles; fairness and transparency, purpose and limitation, data minimisation, accuracy, storage limitation, lawfulness and confidentiality. 

Such use of intrusive technology on young students should be especially alarming to the education council, The Information Commissioner's Office and policymakers across the UK. Parents should feel convinced that their children's right to privacy is being met, rather than being under constant surveillance. The normalisation of biometric facial recognition systems should be restricted.


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