An open letter to:-


Richard Baker

The Principal (Acting)

City of Ely Community College

Downham Road
Cambs CB6 2SH

23 March 2009

Dear Mr Baker

Facial recognition biometrics trial at Ely Community College

According to the Cambridge News [1], Ely are testing the use of facial recognition technology to determine which pupils are on the premises.

The business case in favour of using biometrics depends on the reliability of that technology.

We all have confidence in the expert use of fingerprinting by the police, and in the forensic use of DNA to identify people. Quite rightly. Traditional fingerprinting and DNA work. But that is not the technology being tested at St Neots. Biometrics based on facial recognition have a long history of not working [2].

Historically, you should expect this trial to fail a subject currently being pursued with the Home Office Scientific Development Branch [3]. Typically, about 30% of people cannot be recognised by systems using facial geometry. That is on the same day that they are registered/enrolled into the system. Two months later, typically, facial geometry systems fail to recognise about 60% of people [4]. It is important to run your trial for at least three months.

As an early adopter of the technology in the education sector, Ely may be offered reduced rates for acquisition, installation, training and support. But if the equipment fails to recognise 60% of students after two months, then the business case fails at any price.

Ely is engaged in a technology trial. The technology may or may not be cheaper than the daily 90 minutes of a teacher's time that is expected to be saved. It may or may not make people safer in case of a fire. These matters cannot be determined in advance. They cannot be prejudged. The school needs to conduct the trial first to find out.

You are quoted as saying: "As for the students, they love the idea of taking responsibility for their own registration and using Mission Impossible-style systems". No doubt, but Mission Impossible is fiction, whereas the technology trial is reality.

Please be sceptical, Mr Baker.

Yours sincerely

David Moss