Sunday, 29 May 2022

‘Intrusive!’ Huge row erupts over facial recognition in SCHOOLS as tsar rages against move

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Professor Fraser Sampson, the independent Biometrics and Surveillance Camera Commissioner, said it was becoming “increasingly intrusive surveillance”. He added that it was “controversial” to allow it to be used to record pupil’s faces.

Around seventy schools are reportedly using the technology to identify pupils when on the premises or buying food from the canteen.

Some schools are also said to be planning to use the identification system to monitor children in exams.

New advice on the matter was recently issued by the Department for Education (DfE).

However, Professor Sampson said that the Government department had not consulted him on it, adding that when he had seen it, it “would have benefited from some earlier sharing”.

Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, he said: “I find out completely by accident a couple of weeks ago by going to a meeting that the Department for Education has drafted a code of practice for surveillance in schools which they are about to put out to the world to consult.

“And they [DfE] said: ‘What do you think of it?’ And I say: ‘What code?’ We had no idea about it.”

Prof Sampson was also critical of plans to allow the police to monitor the public with live facial recognition cameras

The surveillance tsar branded it a “sinister” development which risked countless people’s images being stored on a database.

He commented: “There is not really a recognition that this is intrusive surveillance, and it’s increasingly intrusive surveillance.

“If people think the use of facial recognition by the police is sensitive and controversial wait until schools start putting it in.”

Professor Sampson added: “How does any of this fit with much wider Government obligations on the UN convention on the rights of the child not to be subject to close scrutiny and have the freedom to sit in a classroom without being watched, let alone recorded?

“The Chinese are training their algorithms on everyone’s faces. Do we want them doing this on our children’s faces?”

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The use of facial recognition in schools has so far been muted, with concerns being raised about the use of the technology by the Information Commissioners Office.

In October, nine schools in North Ayrshire began taking payments for school lunches using facial recognition to scan pupils’ faces.

The schools said at the time that the new system would speed up lunch queues and was more Covid-secure – though coronavirus has been found to have minimal transference on surfaces.

Reports at the time said that around 97 percent of the pupils or their parents had given consent for the new system to be used. Use of the technology at the schools was paused following inquiries from the ICO.

A further school, in Ashton-under-Lyme, also dropped the rollout of a facial recognition system for their canteen.

The College of Policing has published fresh guidance for use of facial recognition in investigative work, stating that it should be used when “the police have reasonable grounds to suspect [the person] would have information of importance and relevance”.

Professor Sampson remarked: “There is a fundamental difference between rounding up the usual suspects and herding everybody who may possibly have been around.”

There are reportedly at least five police forces in England and Wales that are said to have used facial recognition technology to match people to a profile on a database.

The DfE declined to comment.

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