The UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is already raising concerns about a new face-based payments system in the UK. The system allows students to pay for their lunches with a facial recognition scan, and went live on Monday at nine schools in North Ayrshire in Scotland.
The problem, according to the ICO, is that facial recognition is far more intrusive than alternative payment methods like cards and fingerprint sensors. As a result, using facial recognition is a disproportionate way to approach the relatively simple task of collecting school lunch money from kids.
That’s why the ICO indicated that it will be reaching out to the North Ayrshire council to encourage them to use a different payment method. The privacy watchdog also indicated that it will be following up with the council and making inquiries as the situation evolves.
“Data protection law provides additional protections for children, and organisations need to carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of collecting biometric data before they do so,” said an ICO spokesperson. “Organisations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive manner.”
The facial recognition system was installed by CRB Cunninghams, which argues that its system is faster and more hygienic than other payment methods. The company noted that its system only identifies students at the point of sale, in an effort to distinguish its system from a live surveillance system that identifies faces in real time.
For its part, the North Ayrshire council cited health as a primary factor in its decision, indicating that a contactless facial recognition system would mitigate the threat of COVID-19. Ninety-seven percent of the North Ayrshire student body has opted into the system, though privacy advocates are worried that the school is being quite cavalier with the personal data of minors.
“This is highly sensitive, personal data that children should be taught to protect, not to give away on a whim,” said Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo. “This biometrics company has refused to disclose who else children’s personal information could be shared with and there are some red flags here for us.”
Each student’s biometric data will be deleted once they graduate. More schools are expected to start using the technology in the near future, though that could change if the ICO continues to object to the technology.
October 20, 2021 – by Eric Weiss