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Scots schools forced to ‘pause’ facial recognition over ‘privacy intrusion’

Scots schools have had to ‘pause’ plans to use facial recognition on pupils who want to access school meals due to concerns over ‘privacy intrusion’.

North Ayrshire Council (NAC) had rolled out its facial recognition software in secondary schools on Monday, last week, but just days later the local authority was forced to withdraw it following enquiries from the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).

The system was supposed to improve the cashless system already in place. In a bid to save time it scans faces of pupils at the til so it knows whose account needs to be charged.

The system was supposed to improve the cashless system already in place. In a bid to save time it scans faces of pupils at the til so it knows whose account needs to be charged.

The company behind the scheme, CRB Cunninghams, insists time will be saved by speeding up the process whereby children queue up and pay.

However the system was not voted in by elected members of North Ayrshire Council, despite the authority saying 97% of parents have approved it. They say those who don’t, can opt out using a pin number instead.

Last week, the ICO responded to media reports about plans to introduce facial recognition by saying that organisations should consider a “less intrusive” approach where possible.

Scots schools forced to 'pause' facial recognition over 'privacy intrusion'
The system was supposed to improve the cashless system already in place. In a bid to save time it scans faces of pupils at the til so it knows whose account needs to be charged.

Now NAC has announced it would be pressing ‘pause’ on the system while enquiries were ongoing following concerns.

A statement said: “Having received a number of enquiries in recent days, we have temporarily paused the contactless payment system, which uses facial recognition, in our secondary schools from this afternoon while we consider and respond to the enquiries received.

“Whilst we are confident the new facial recognition system is operating as planned, we felt it prudent to revert to the previous PIN (Personal identification Number) system while we consider the enquiries received.

“Pupils using the facial recognition system, who do not already have PINs, will be issued with these on Monday, October 25. We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and hope to be in a position to offer a further update in the very near future.”

Some parents voiced their concerns on Twitter with some branding the software “creepy” and “eroding our rights”.

One said: “Harvest data about the children and sell it to marketing companies. Opens the door to everybody getting tracked via facial recognition in public spaces. Every person has the right to a private life. Our rights are being eroded every year.

Another said: “Why do you need facial recognition for children? Totally creepy, totally unnecessary.”

“Did you ask the Pupils,Parents on their views before installing the facial recognition system..?” said another.

Jen Persson, director of children-focused digital rights group Defend Digital Me, told the BBC children were being used as Guinea Pigs.

She said: “From places in the US to Europe, authorities are banning facial recognition.

“But in the UK we are using children as guinea pigs for the most privacy invasive technologies on the market.”

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