Facial Recognition Technology (Schools)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 28th October 2021.

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Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

7. To ask the First Minister what the Scottish Government’s position is regarding the use of facial recognition technology in schools. (S6F-00388)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Facial recognition technology in schools does not appear to be proportionate or necessary. That said, as Willie Rennie will be aware, the introduction of biometric identification systems is a matter for local authorities and schools.

The Scottish Government is clear that, prior to introducing biometric systems, an education authority should carry out a privacy impact assessment, or a proportionate equivalent, and consult pupils and parents. Information should also be provided on data protection, how to opt out, consent, and alternative systems that may be used. Schools and local authorities will also pay due attention to the Information Commissioner’s Office requirements that organisations that are using facial recognition technology should comply with data protection law before, during and after its use.

Photo of Willie Rennie Willie Rennie Liberal Democrat

The subtle change of tone from the First Minister is mildly welcome, but I am afraid that she is not doing enough on this. It is about children’s rights and she does not seem to be that bothered about it.

The United Kingdom Information Commissioner’s Office has called a halt to the scheme in North Ayrshire, but it should never have got this far. The SNP Government previously opposed the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner having a role in health and education. If the First Minister will not intervene on facial recognition, will she support the expansion of the remit of the Scottish Biometrics Commissioner so that he can intervene?

The First Minister:

I am happy to give consideration to that suggestion. The rights of children are hugely important to all of us in the Parliament. We are committed to ensuring that their rights are protected, including their right to the fair and lawful processing of their personal information.

I am not aware of any subtle change in the tone of my answer. What I set out in my initial answer is important. It recognises the role of local authorities in schools, and it also sets out the requirements to which local authorities need to pay heed. That is the appropriate way to deal with what I accept is a difficult and sensitive issue.