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Scottish Schools Take Kids’ Lunch Money by Scanning Their Faces

Nine schools in Scotland are using facial recognition technology to charge students for their cafeteria lunches.

The initiative, which debuted Monday in schools in the North Ayrshire area, was developed as a way of processing school lunch transactions faster and more efficiently, as well as eliminating close contact between individuals who may spread COVID-19, the Financial Times reported.

The technology scans the faces of students after they select their meal, identifying them and automatically charging their account, according to a pamphlet distributed by the North Ayrshire school system.

“It’s the fastest way of recognising someone at the till — it’s faster than card, it’s faster than fingerprint,” David Swanston, managing director of CRB Cunninghams, the company that installed the technology, told the FT. “In a secondary school you have around about a 25 minute period to serve potentially 1,000 pupils. So we need fast throughput at the point of sale.”

Facial recognition is a controversial technology, with U.S. states including Maine, Washington and New York banning or severely curbing its use. However, the North Ayrshire council said 97% of children or parents consented to the new system.

“Pupils often forget their PINs and unfortunately some have also been the victim of PIN fraud, so they are supportive of the planned developments and appreciate the benefits to them,” the council told the FT.

Parents can choose to opt their children out of the technology, according to a fact sheet distributed by the North Ayrshire council, and parents can also ask schools to delete biometric data and records of their child. Privacy advocates worry the measure is intrusive and overreaching.

“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,” Silkie Carlo of the campaign group Big Brother Watch told the FT.

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