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Facial recognition technology in schools: international experience in collecting biometrics of minors

Facial recognition technology in schools — RecFaces

Collecting biometric data from minors has become a popular and controversial news topic in recent years.

The initiative has many supporters as well as opponents. The RecFaces team offers to get deeper into the issue and get acquainted with the world experience in implementing children's biometrics.


Biometrics in schools in Europe and Asia
Arguments for collecting biometrics from minors
School Security
Access control to school campuses and access to services
Assistance in investigating crimes against children
Arguments Against
Biometrics will make minors' private data more vulnerable to fraud
Biometrics compromises children's personal data protection
Biometrics invades the child's privacy

Biometrics in schools in Europe and Asia

Today, students' biometric data is being collected in different countries; however, the practice has not become all over the place. It has the most widespread application in India, where the national Aadhaar biometric ID system has been operating since 2009, and in China, where the state is massively introducing biometric technologies. Facial recognition and intelligent video surveillance systems play a significant role in the social credit system, which the Chinese authorities have been developing since 2014. All Chinese citizens have a personal credit score, depending on their behavior. For instance, by paying bills on time or volunteering for community services, an individual earns points; at the same time smoking in the wrong place or red-light road crossing can downgrade the social credit score. Rewards for positive social credit may include privileges from the government such as discounts on energy bills or better interest rates at banks. On the contrary, a person with a low score may be limited in their rights. Punishments, for example, include flight bans or exclusion from private schools.

Some Western European countries, like Belgium, France, and the UK, use biometric technologies on children. However, the collection of children's biometric data is strictly regulated by law. Thus, in France, all schools where children undergo biometric fingerprinting are under the control of the CNIL. This administrative body is responsible for issues related to interference in people's privacy. The UK is the most active in introducing biometrics in educational institutions. According to a report by the human rights organization DefendDigitalMe, about three-quarters of the UK secondary schools are applying fingerprint biometrics this year.On average, at least 85 % of students submit biometric data to schools. Since 2020, schools have started using facial recognition, but this practice has not become widespread. Most frequently, biometrics is used for school meals and library book loans. In 2018 US schools began implementing facial recognition to prevent school shootings. However, even here, you can find opponents of child biometrics. For example, in 2020, New York banned facial recognition in schools. The main arguments against it are the violation of minors' right to privacy protection and inaccurate algorithms, which make the technology prone to discriminatory effects, especially on students of color.

Biometric technologies provide children a wide range of benefits by supporting more holistic service delivery, preventing fraud in cash payment systems, and facilitating interaction with service providers. However, biometric technology also poses a particular risk to children. In addition to data protection and privacy concerns that apply to all biometrics, this technology has mainly been designed to work with adults; thus, it may not always function correctly for recognizing children. Biometric recognition errors can cause additional challenges for children and their parents.

Let's consider two positions.

Arguments for collecting biometrics from minors

School Security

The problem of school safeguarding is highly relevant today. Thus, introducing facial recognition technology would bring school security to a new level. Modern software biometric solutions, such as Id-Guard by RecFaces, allow to work effectively with watch lists and promptly prevent unauthorized access to the building. The current school security model is based on investigating incidents through video archives. Biometrics would shift the focus to incident prevention and improve the security department's work through the biometric system's instant incident alerting.

Access control to school campuses and access to services

The use of facial recognition for access control in schools has many supporters. Today, many schools are equipped with turnstiles; however, this security system has many weaknesses. One student can pass their access card to another; besides, cards are easy to forge, forget or lose. Enhancing access control systems with facial recognition would minimize the risk of unauthorized access to the building. In addition to solving the security problem, such a system speeds up the control process. For example, the biometric solution for the access control system, Id-Gate, identifies a person in less than a second. It is much faster and simpler than fingerprint access.

Students can also use biometrics to access multiple school services like meals or library book loans. This practice is quite widespread in Europe. Face ID payment speeds up service in school cafeterias and keeps students from wasting time in queues.

Assistance in investigating crimes against children

Law enforcement agencies actively use biometrics to investigate crimes against minors, and biometric data can easily help to search for missing or kidnapped children.

Arguments Against

Biometrics will make minors' private data more vulnerable to fraud

Parents concerned about children's private data security usually argue against biometrics. According to popular belief, inexperience and emotionality make children more vulnerable to cybercriminals. It is partly true, but actually, cybercriminals are not primarily interested in biometric data but other personal information that minors actively share online. Regarding children's cybersecurity, posting a story or a photo from a summer camp on a social media platform is much more dangerous than gaining access using facial recognition to a banking app with a multifactor authentication system.

Biometrics compromises children's personal data protection

Facial recognition is a relatively new technology. Like any innovation, facial biometrics raises a lot of concerns. Usually, people fear what they don't know or understand. From the psychological point of view, biases and falsities are easier to believe because they bear an emotional connotation. On the contrary, getting deep into the technology and assessing its benefits require more cognitive and time investment. Possibly the most popular fear about biometrics is biometric data breach. The cause of such worries is often people's lack of awareness of biometrics. When storing information in modern biometric systems, the principle of depersonalization is applied. People's photos, biometric templates, and private data are stored in different databases and encrypted. Even in case of a data breach, criminals would not be able to decode and apply biometric templates without an algorithm.

Biometrics invades the child's privacy

There is another argument against biometrics. Opponents think the children's constant monitoring by cameras will deprive them of the right to privacy. However, the main goal of facial recognition is the security of minors, not tracking or total control. Of course, it is necessary to consider ethical issues and religious attitudes toward biometric technology; however, the widespread negative position on digitalization results from a lack of public awareness and legal education.

Biometric technology has always been the subject of heated debates. And it is difficult to predict the outcome of the discussions over child biometrics yet. Maybe children's biometric data collection will get the «green light» from different states. As for introducing biometric technologies in educational institutions, we may see various pilot projects and experiments shortly despite parents' mistrust. Day by day, as experience shows, the number of supporters of facial recognition technology is increasing all over the world.

You can learn more about facial biometrics in the RecFaces blog.

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