UK Schools Normalizing Biometric Collection By Using Facial Recognition For Meal Payments

from the cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-remaining-canteen-balance dept

Subjecting students to surveillance tech is nothing new. Most schools have had cameras installed for years. Moving students from desks to laptops allows schools to monitor internet use, even when students aren’t on campus. Bringing police officers into schools to participate in disciplinary problems allows law enforcement agencies to utilize the same tech and analytics they deploy against the public at large. And if cameras are already in place, it’s often trivial to add facial recognition features.

The same tech that can keep kids from patronizing certain retailers is also being used to keep deadbeat kids from scoring free lunches. While some local governments in the United States are trying to limit the expansion of surveillance tech in their own jurisdictions, governments in the United Kingdom seem less concerned about the mission creep of surveillance technology.

Some students in the UK are now able to pay for their lunch in the school canteen using only their faces. Nine schools in North Ayrshire, Scotland, started taking payments using biometric information gleaned from facial recognition systems on Monday, according to the Financial Times. [alt link]

The technology is being provided by CRB Cunningham, which has installed a system that scans the faces of students and cross-checks them against encrypted faceprint templates stored locally on servers in the schools. It’s being brought in to replace fingerprint scanning and card payments, which have been deemed less safe since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the Financial Times report, 65 schools have already signed up to participate in this program, which has supposedly dropped transaction times at the lunchroom register to less than five seconds per student. I assume that’s an improvement, but it seems fingerprints/cards weren’t all that slow and there are plenty of options for touchless payment if schools need somewhere to spend their cafeteria tech money.

CRB says more than 97% of parents have consented to the collection and use of their children’s biometric info to… um… move kids through the lunch line faster. I guess the sooner you get kids used to having their faces scanned to do mundane things, the less likely they’ll be to complain when demands for info cross over into more private spaces.

The FAQ on the program makes it clear it’s a single-purpose collection governed by a number of laws and data collection policies. Parents can opt out at any time and all data is deleted after opt out or if the student leaves the school. It’s good this is being handled responsibly but, like all facial recognition tech, mistakes can (and will) be made. When these inevitably occur, hopefully the damage will be limited to a missed meal.

The FAQ handles questions specifically about this program. The other flyer published by the North Ayrshire Council explains nothing and implies facial recognition is harmless, accurate, and a positive addition to students’ lives.

We’re introducing Facial Recognition!

This new technology is now available for a contactless meal service!

Following this exciting announcement, the flyer moves on to discussing biometric collections and the tech that makes it all possible. It accomplishes this in seven short “land of contrasts” paragraphs that explain almost nothing and completely ignore the inherent flaws in these systems as well as the collateral damage misidentification can cause.

The section titled “The history of biometrics” contains no history. Instead, it says biometric collections are already omnipresent so why worry about paying for lunch with your face?

Whilst the use of biometric recognition has been steadily growing over the last decade or so, these past couple of years have seen an explosion in development, interest and vendor involvement, particularly in mobile devices where they are commonly used to verify the owner of the device before unlocking or making purchases.

If students want to learn more (or anything) about the history of biometrics, I guess they’ll need to do their own research. Because this is the next (and final) paragraph of the “history of biometrics” section:

We are delighted to offer this fast and secure identification technology to purchase our delicious and nutritious school meals

Time is a flattened circle, I guess. The history of biometrics is the present. And the present is the future of student payment options, of which there are several. But these schools have put their money on facial recognition, which will help them raise a generation of children who’ve never known a life where they weren’t expected to use their bodies to pay for stuff.

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Comments on “UK Schools Normalizing Biometric Collection By Using Facial Recognition For Meal Payments”

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17 Comments
Clandestine (profile) says:

Normalizing Biometric Collection

It would seem to me that this system would be much more pleasant than the usual , ‘Please show me some identification’ because in any case I usually will not get what I want unless I comply, and since I usually walk around with my face uncovered anyone could ID me anyway.
So, what do you want? Should citizens be allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Normalizing Biometric Collection

It would seem to me that this system would be much more pleasant than the usual , ‘Please show me some identification’ because in any case I usually will not get what I want unless I comply, and since I usually walk around with my face uncovered anyone could ID me anyway.

People forget. Machines do not. That person who asked for ID at the store isn’t about to waste time remembering what you look like and your name unless questioned over it. Even then they won’t remember past a week or two unless they have a really good memory or a predisposition for needing to do so. A machine will always remember every last detail. Right down to the fact that you were yawning afterwards for the 14th time since you entered the store. That level of information and detail is valuable to someone, and they will do whatever it takes to get their hands on it. Regardless of whether or not you get compensated for complying or not.

So, what do you want? Should citizens be allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences?

You imply that you have done something wrong citizen. Please report to the nearest confession center, and volunteer your misdeeds for the official record. Your peers will be happy to judge you for everything.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Normalizing Biometric Collection

Should citizens be allowed to do whatever they want with no consequences?

Ah yes, the old "those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear" argument.

You know, because no powers have ever historically been abused to harm those just going about their everyday business.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Well that escalated quickly

‘Teaching school children that biometric collection and tracking is normal is problematic’ equals ‘People should be able to do whatever they want with no consequences’… whatever article you were reading sounds like a fascinating/disturbing one but as it has nothing to do with this one I’m not sure why you brought it up.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Prostitution

raise a generation of children who’ve never known a life where they weren’t expected to use their bodies to pay for stuff.

I thought that prostitution was illegal in most places… now we have schools making kids pay for their food with their bodys… gasp, panic and share

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Isn’t this the nation that has a long history of their tech being shitty?
I mean I’ve seen video of plainsclothes officers getting kids off the street based on facial rec hits & treating them like they are convicted hardened criminals. They don’t explain or care that the kids have rights, they don’t explain whats going on & they get awfully pissy when one of those damn activists see what they are up to and interfere with the investigations… based on a facial rec "match" of someone with dark skin that their system is very flawed at matching.

If the facial rec was as shitty with white faces as it is with other races, it would be banned from use. But because it works well on white folk everyone else just has to accept that the computer matched your face with someone you don’t actually look like and the problems that come along with it.

They are trying to normalize something that citizens shouldn’t accept happening.

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