Schools using facial recognition systems should consider less intrusive ways to allow students to pay for meals, the UK data privacy supervisor said.
A small number of schools are using technology to enable students to pay for contactless lunch.
Nine schools in North Ayrshire launched these facilities this week – the board said it helped reduce the risks of Covid.
But the Liberty campaign group said children shouldn’t be used as guinea pigs for technology.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) said schools should “carefully consider the necessity and proportionality of biometric data collection before doing so.”
He said he would take the matter up with the North Ayrshire council.
“Organizations should consider using a different approach if the same goal can be achieved in a less intrusive way,” reads a statement.
The details of the Ayrshire schools’ facial recognition systems were first reported by the Financial Times.
A North Ayrshire board spokesperson said: “Our restaurant system contracts are coming to their natural expiration and we have the opportunity to install an IT infrastructure that makes our service more efficient and improves the student experience using an innovative technology “.
He added that the board was keen to use contactless options given the ongoing risk of Covid-19.
Covid-19 can occasionally spread through surface contact, although scientific research suggests that airborne transmission via respiratory droplets is more common.
The spokesperson added that facial recognition made payments faster and that more than 97% of pupils, parents and carers gave their consent to use the system.
At the service of biometrics
Two schools in England also appear to have recently adopted facial recognition technology for lunch payments, the BBC found.
Companies that supply facial recognition systems to schools point out the decrease in the time spent waiting in line for lunch.
One such company is CRB Cunninghams notes on its website that its technology works with face masks and can achieve an average service time of five seconds per pupil.
The BBC reached out to the company for comment.
But activists argue that technology has no place in education.
“Biometrics should never be used for children in educational settings – no ifs, buts. It’s not necessary. Just ban it,” a spokesperson for Defend Digital Me, a digital rights group focused on children, told the BBC.
“The least invasive option should always be the one used, and whether it’s buying things in the canteen or borrowing books from the library, it doesn’t need biometrics.”
He added that Defend Digital Me had written to the Children’s Commissioner in Scotland about the introduction of facial recognition in North Ayrshire schools.
Emmanuelle Andrews, Liberty’s Policy and Campaigns Officer, said: “Children should be free to go to school without being subjected to mass surveillance and should not be guinea pigs for this discriminatory and oppressive technology.”
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