A British school district is rolling out a new biometric payments system at its cafeterias. The system is now live at nine schools in North Ayrshire, and uses facial recognition to verify the identities of students paying for school lunches.
Administrators argue that the new system is safer and more efficient than its predecessor. The schools have previously asked students to pay with either fingerprint recognition or a card and PIN code. However, students have a propensity to forget their PINs, and the cards also come with a higher risk of fraud. The fingerprint system, on the other hand, relied on shared scanners that could become vectors for COVID-19 and other illnesses.
The new facial recognition system (installed by CRB Cunninghams) will match student faces to encrypted templates stored on servers at the school. The process can be completed in as little as five seconds, which allows the school to move students through the lunch line more quickly.
“In a secondary school you have around about a 25-minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils,” said CRB Cunninghams Managing Director David Swanston. “So we need fast throughput at the point of sale.”
The North Ayrshire council claimed that the new system is extremely popular with parents, and that 97 percent of the students have received permission to enroll in the system. The system is not nearly as popular with privacy advocates, who suggested that many parents and students may not have been fully informed when offering consent. They argued that school payments is a disproportionate use case for facial recognition, and that schools should use less intrusive methods as long as they are available.
“It’s normalising biometric identity checks for something that is mundane,” said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo. “You don’t need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch.”
For its part, CRB Cunninghams tried to distinguish its payments system from the full-scale surveillance systems that have been deployed elsewhere, claiming that its system does not identify students in crowds in real time, and instead only verifies individual people in the cafeteria at the point of sale. The company first trialed its system at a school in Gateshead in 2020, and indicated that 65 schools have already signed up for its service.
The UK’s Biometrics Commissioner, Fraser Sampson, is one of those arguing that schools should rely on less intrusive measures. There has been considerable pushback against facial recognition in schools in other countries. New York State banned the practice after one school district installed cameras in 2020, and a Swedish school received a GDPR fine after trialing a biometric attendance system. There is growing support for naked payments in the real world, with Moscow recently installing a new Face Pay scheme at its metro stations.
Source: Financial Times
October 19, 2021 – by Eric Weiss