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Biometrically Opposed to Big Brother

By ann sheldon, Wednesday Sep 7, 2016

Since 2001 more and more UK schools are keeping tabs on children’s activities by using their biometric data. The data is a unique digital fingerprint – based on a child’s actual physical fingerprints or facial measurements. After all, it’s easier than calling a register. 

Back in 2005 Pippa King’s children were just 6 and 7 years old when she heard they were to be fingerprinted for a school library system.  When the Head Teacher said the school did not need her permission to take her children’s fingerprints she started to campaign against biometrics alongside other parents and civil rights organisations.  

Pippa is happy to share her expertise with concerned mums and dads. Her blog, “Biometrics in Schools” helps parents question having their child’s data in the digital ID system. 

A child’s print could tag them for life

“Some Bristol parents recently got in touch with me because the school just offered biometric – without offering an alternative or a choice to decline. Parents only know they have the right to decline if they are suitably informed – which most are not. They were annoyed and felt the school was not honest about the system itself or the parents’ and children’s rights to say no.”

Pippa is currently examining if consent gained, without being informed of the legal right to opt out, is legally valid.

Fingerprint, infra-red palm scanning, facial recognition and iris scanning have been used in Britain’s education system with schools citing the reasons for biometrics to improve library use, encourage eating habits, reduce lunch lines, reduce bullying – not any of these claims have ever been proved. This type of ID system allows a child’s activity to be monitored and recorded – from eating habits and books read to attendance and possibly other behaviours.

The word biometric is derived from the Greek words “bio” meaning life and “metric” meaning to measure

“If a child has never touched a fingerprint scanner, there is zero probability of being incorrectly investigated for a crime. Once a child has touched a scanner they will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives.”  Brian Drury, IT security consultant.

Both parents and children have legal rights in choosing how a child’s biometrics will be processed in school. Ideally they should make an informed decision on this matter.  Pippa’s advises parents to,” …take on board what the schools states about the system but also do your own research on the pros and cons and come to your own conclusion”.

Following campaigning by parents and civil rights groups the law was changed the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012  to dictate that schools must:

• Inform parents that they plan to process their child’s biometrics but they can opt out.

• In order for a school to process children’s biometrics at least one parent must consent and no parent has withdrawn consent. This needs to be in writing.

• The child can object to the processing of their biometrics regardless of parents’ consent.

• Schools must provide an alternative means for children not using their biometrics.  i.e. pin or swipe card.

A child’s biometric data needs to be secure and uncompromised for the duration of their lifetime.  Unlike a password or pin it cannot be replaced.  No government department has ever tested the hardware or software of any biometric system used in education.  

How secure can a child’s fingerprint be?

If the police or security services wanted access to a school biometric database, the school would have to give that data to them without the child or parent’s knowledge.  This came to light in 2007 when the Deputy Information Commissioner, whose office oversees the Data Protection Act, gave evidence to a parliamentary committee looking at surveillance. 

Schools in Bristol are using this technology so the question is – Is a fingerprint really needed to eat in school when a less invasive form of identity for your child is available?

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