Schools put the brakes on facial recognition scheme for kids buying lunch

Schools in the United Kingdom have paused the rollout of facial recognition scans in cafeterias following backlash from data watchdogs and privacy advocates.

Last week, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), the UK’s data and privacy regulator, intervened after nine schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland, began scanning student faces to take payment for school lunches. 

At the time, more schools were expected to follow suit. The scheme was defended as a cashless, quick, and contactless means of payment in light of COVID-19. 

However, the ICO and privacy outfits were quick to note that in a time where law enforcement is roundly criticized for using the same technology on the streets, introducing it in schools may be unnecessary. 

Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo said:

“It’s normalizing biometric identity checks for something that is mundane. You don’t need to resort to airport-style [technology] for children getting their lunch.”

The ICO told The Guardian that the organization would contact North Ayrshire council to talk about data protection laws concerning minors and to see if a “less intrusive” payment option was available. 

This could include contactless payment on cards or fingerprint readers, the former of which is widely used in the United Kingdom. 

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