London, Oct 18 (IANS): Facial recognition technology have been rolled out by a group of nine schools in the UK to verify children's payments for school meals, acording to media reports.
Instead of conventional payment methods like cards or fingerprint scanners, the technology is faster and more hygienic than claimed the schools in North Ayrshire in Scotland, the Verge reported.
However, privacy advocates warned that the move is normalising biometric surveillance.
"With Facial Recognition, pupils simply select their meal, look at the camera and go, making for a faster lunch service whilst removing any contact at the point of sale," read a flyer distributed to parents by the schools.
As per an FAQ sheet by the schools children's biometric data is stored in an encrypted form and deleted when a child leaves the school. Parents have to opt-in for children to use the technology, and can alternatively use PIN to verify payments, the report said.
Facial recognition cut payment time per pupil to five seconds on average, David Swanston, managing director of CRB Cunninghams, was quoted as saying to The Financial Times. Swanston's firm was responsible for installing the technology
He noted that the system underwent a pilot run in 2020, and that 65 more schools were signed up to introduce the technology.
According to the North Ayrshire council, 97 per cent of children or parents consented to be enrolled, the FT report said. But some parents said they were not sure if children fully understood what they were signing up for, and were influenced by peer pressure.
Facial recognition systems of various types are becoming more common throughout the world. Schools in the US have been installing such systems for years, though usually as a security measure. However, it is banned in various states and cities, arguing that the technology is frequently biased across racial or gender lines.
Last week, Russia introduced facial recognition payments in its metro system, with activists warning that the technology could be used to track and identify protestors.
In the European Union, politicians and advocacy groups are calling for a ban on the technology, arguing that the downsides of its introduction outweigh potential benefits.
The Ayrshire school scheme was unnecessary, Silkie Carlo of the UK campaign group Big Brother Watch was quoted as saying to the FT.
"It's normalising biometric identity checks for something that is mundane. You don't need to resort to airport style [technology] for children getting their lunch," Carlo said.