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

The news has schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland introduced face recognition technology Supporting payments in their canteen raises many questions. The company behind the program, CRB Cunninghams, says speeding up the process of getting children in line and paying will save valuable time. The North Ayrshire Council says 97% of children or their parents gave their consent. Alternative grocery shopping options are offered for the rest.

But this deal between a local government agency and a tech company whose stated aim is to remove cash from UK schools is not what its supporters portray it to be taken for granted. Face recognition technology is still relatively new. Its various forms and uses are unknown to most people and their uses remain controversial. The Scottish payment system for meals is said to be different from “live” face recognition software, in which computers scan through crowds to match faces. Encrypted templates of the children’s faces are stored on the schools’ servers. But privacy activists and others are rightly concerned about the decision to make face scanning a part of children’s daily routine.

the Use of biometric fingerprints has been widely used in UK school canteens for years. Time constraints aside, it’s easy to see why school principals and other managers have been keen to move away from cash, which in our electronic age seems messy and labor intensive. But just because students and their families get used to using some biometric data does not mean that these systems should be expanded. Also, the notion that facial recognition is a more Covid-proof technology than fingerprints, as proposed in relation to North Ayrshire, does not provide sufficient justification for the choices made. On the contrary, the deal with CRB Cunninghams should be seen as a significant step towards normalizing the use of facial recognition technology by authorities.

What people think about this and about similar developments depends on how important they are to privacy and personal data and how much they trust technology companies to deal with them. There is no question that companies are eager to test new skills and see how they can make money from them. The use of such technologies has been shown to be illegal in several countries. Last year the appeals court ruled that the use of facial recognition technology by the police in Wales Violation of data protection and equality laws. Schools have been banned from using them to monitor attendance or security in the US and Sweden.

Typically, the buyers and sellers of these systems present them as useful tools and nothing more. But like Prof. Kate Crawford that Author of a recent book about AI, and other critics have pointed out that companies are ahead of democratic debate and decision-making at this point. The challenges of regulating and securing consent for the types of information gathering that digital technology enables are far from being answered. And while it does, using children as guinea pigs is ethically questionable to say the least.