Tuesday, 10 April 2007

Fingerprint schemes

Up to 5.9 million children face having their fingerprints taken by schools in another move towards a 'Big Brother' society.Pupils will have to hand over their biometric details simply to borrow library books or gain access to school dinners.

Critics say it is part of a 'softening-up' exercise to condition children to accept a creeping surveillance society. They also point to the danger of identity theft, if hackers manage to access the school databases. Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaign, said, "This is an abrogation of moral duty. Schools should be teaching children to look after their biometric information. They are going to grow up in a world where keeping it secure is enormously important, yet they are being taught that it is OK to hand it over for the most trivial of matters. It is a disgrace."

Schools that use fingerprint systems say that the children think it is cool! I would agree. How cool would it be to check out a book just by using your thumb! Perhaps I am being very naive, but I am surprised how much of a fuss this seems to have caused.

Damian Green, Tory frontbencher, said, "Schools use fingerprints as security for libraries, and sometimes to allow access to canteens. If parents have given permission, this is acceptable, but only on strict conditions that every school should follow." The conditions he suggests are:

  • No fingerprinting of children without prior parental consent;
  • Coding of information so that no child can be identified from the school database;
  • information should be used only for purposes specified by the school in advance;
  • All data to be detroyed when the child leaves the school.

These conditions make sense to me.


David Clouter said...

I think you would agree that some children might think it cool to smoke behind the bike sheds, but it is our duty to guide them.

Many professionals have condemned the practice of school fingerprint scanning, including Microsoft's Identity Architect Kim Cameron, who has issued strong warnings of the risks.

We're not storing "just a number" on these systems. We are storing a full fingerprint template. These are interchangeable between different manufacturers and systems. They would be of enormous value to thieves. In future it's likely that fingerprint templates will be used for bank accounts, passports, etc. It's like a PIN number that you can never change, for your whole life. That's why parents' websites like LeaveThemKidsAlone have been making such a fuss. As much as anything else, we're trying to warn schools of huge potential civil liabilities if children's biometrics are stolen.

Moreover, Dr Sandra Leaton Gray, Director of Studies, Sociology of Education at Homerton College, Cambridge did an exhaustive search and found no independent evidence of benefit to children.

I agree that kids may find it 'fun' when putting their thumb on the scanner produces a smiley on the screen. But that's hardly the point.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to make my case.

James B said...

David helps to run the organisation Leave Them Kids Alone which campaigns against finger printing. It is clear from reading his website that there is more to this issue than I realised. Find out more about the campaign at: http://www.leavethemkidsalone.com/

Anonymous said...

All this fingerprinting! Where does it end? What lines will be crossed--especially with regard to our civil rights--with this massive database with all our fingerprints? This is very scary to me...........

Claire Browne said...


A Cambridgeshire head teacher is setting up a database of children's movements outside school. Chilling indeed.