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The Guardian view on biometric technology in schools: watch closely | Editorial

Monday 18th October 2021

Sellers of facial recognition software would like it to be seen as a useful tool. But its use on children raises questions

The news that schools in North Ayrshire in Scotland have introduced facial recognition technology to support payments in their canteens prompts many questions. The company behind the scheme, CRB Cunninghams, says valuable time will be saved by speeding up the process whereby children queue up and pay. North Ayrshire council says that 97% of children or their parents have given their consent. Alternative ways to buy food will be provided for the rest.

But this deal between a local authority and a technology company, whose stated aim is to remove cash from UK schools, is not the no-brainer that its backers present it as. Facial recognition technology is still relatively new. Its various forms and applications are unfamiliar to most people and their use remains controversial. The Scottish meal payment system is said to differ from “live” facial recognition software, where computers scan through crowds to match faces. Encrypted templates of the children’s faces will be stored on the schools’ servers. But privacy campaigners and others are rightly concerned about the decision to make facial scanning a part of children’s daily routines.

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