Australian schools begin spying trials using facial recognition technology

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Australian schools are being asked to trial technology that will allow them to spy on students. A new company called LoopLearn is hopeful its facial recognition technology and “small, unobtrusive devices,” which scan the school grounds looking for students, will be used by schools across the country.

The technology is designed to cut out the need for time-consuming roll marking to make sure everyone is in class and ensure students can always be located. The technology will be tested in a small number of Victorian independent schools and the company’s founder Zoe Milne said government schools have also been asked to trial the technology.

The LoopLearn website – which says it has a presence in Melbourne and Sydney — states the advanced technology allows teachers to locate students across the whole school, in real time, “with machine vision and learning technology”. “Small, unobtrusive LoopLearn Devices are easily installed in all spaces and observe which students are present – displaying this information in an easy to use web dashboard and mobile app,” the website states. “Made for the classroom, these devices scan your learning spaces in real time providing detailed attendance data down to the minute.” A letter from one Victorian Catholic girls’ secondary school to parents says “the program is based on student facial recognition and can determine a student’s whereabouts on campus at any given time”.

The new software, to be trialed in Sacred Heart College Year 11 classes, would also “save a good deal of time in that teachers won’t need to manually mark the attendance roll before each class”, the letter states. It goes on to say the program is also being tested in a number of other Victorian schools. A Sacred Heart College spokeswoman said it could not name the other Victorian schools LoopLearn had approached for the technology trial, but they were “well established schools managing large cohorts of students”. Ms Milne also refused to name the other Victorian schools which had agreed to trial the technology. The Victorian Department of Education said it took the privacy of school students and families very seriously and demanded a Privacy Impact Assessment be undertaken before the introduction of any new technology such as that being proposed by LoopLearn.

“We are not aware of this product being used in Victorian Government schools – or any third-party products in use in Victorian Government schools that uses facial recognition technology,’ a spokesperson said. The Office of the Australian Information Commissioner, which handles privacy complaints, said it was not able to provide comment.

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