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British Schools Use Facial Recognition for Meals

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A school group in Scotland uses facial recognition to make children pay for their school meals. According to the schools, far-reaching biometric identification speeds up the payment process.


On the Isle of Arran, Scotland, a school group begins rolling out a facial recognition payment system for secondary school meals. They use CRB Cunningham’s technology for this, and, according to the group, the system should ensure that there are fewer long queues, and payment can be made with less chance of the spread of COVID-19, the Financial Times writes. In addition, the system would allow transactions to be completed in about five seconds.

A similar system had previously been tested in Gateshead, England, and according to the Arran School Group, 97% of parents have given their consent to use the system. However, some said they were unsure whether their children had been given enough information to make such a decision.

The use of facial recognition, especially for children, is controversial. According to CRB Cunninghams, it’s ‘the next step in cashless catering’, but AI around facial recognition tends to work less well with minorities, for example, not to mention the security concerns surrounding children’s biometrics. The system in Arran uses facial print templates, which are stored on the school’s computers and hopefully deleted after a year. The British privacy commission says it is already starting an investigation.

Privacy activists in the UK see the move primarily as a dangerous way to normalize facial recognition. They call the system too far-reaching and complex for something as simple as ‘paying for your meal’. Although the software is used more often, a strong counter-movement has also started. For example, in Sweden and France, schools were called back who wanted to use a similar system.

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