On Shaving
Guarding our data

Women and children first

March of this year and Wendy Grossman reports in the Guardian on the fingerprinting of children in UK schools:

Last week, news emerged that Primrose Hill primary school in north London had been fingerprinting pupils without their parents' consent. It seemed shocking yet should not have come as such a surprise. Micro Librarian Systems' Junior Librarian has been marketed in the UK since 2002 and is estimated to have fingerprinted hundreds of thousands of British children.

That so many schools have been happy to install such systems, often without thinking it necessary to consult parents, is a reflection of how this technology is infiltrating society. We can expect more of the same, for children and adults, should the ID card, debated once more this week in parliament, become reality.

May, and here's the Yorkshire Post:

A Yorkshire school is taking fingerprints from pupils – to keep a check on payments for school trips. The system, which means pupils can be instantly identified when they touch a scanner attached to one of the school computers, is expected to recoup the £2,500 cost of its installation by saving time on form-filling. If the experiment in "biometrics" works, it might be extended.

… The organisation of trips at Ilkley Grammar involves a turnover of £250,000 a year, mostly collected in £10 or £15 instalments. It means close to 20,000 transactions a year. The fingerprint recognition system means that when a pupil takes a payment instalment to the school office, his or her account can be called up automatically, with no question of any confusion between names.

Head teacher Gillian James said in an explanatory letter to parents that the system would store a number based on a fingerprint reading. No fingerprint images would be stored. The Information Commissioner and the Department of Education and Skills had said they had no concerns.

… 42 of the 1,532 current pupils, aged 11 to 18, had been kept out of the fingerprint registration process for one reason or another. One of the objectors is Christian White, a journalist who reports on Westminster for the BBC but lives in North Parade, Ilkley, and has a 14-year-old step-daughter at the school. He said yesterday: "Mrs James has effectively admitted this is not just a trivial bit of bureaucracy. It is the thin end of a wedge, the start of a process which could eventually enable the school to track our children every minute of the day. And it is a matter of proportionality. You do not give any organisation more intimate information than it needs to do its job and if my bank can manage my salary without getting my fingerprints, I don't see why the school cannot manage a couple of £12.50 payments from a 14-year-old for a trip to Lightwater Valley."

The Ilkley system was installed by Pinecone Associates of Carrington, Greater Manchester. Its marketing manager, Martin Parsons, said yesterday: "It is misleading to talk about fingerprinting children. The fingerprint is just a convenient shape to read to create an identity profile."

That last bit is priceless.

3 July. The Daily Mirror — back to school libraries and Micro Librarian Systems:

FURY erupted yesterday after it emerged an estimated 700,000 children are being fingerprinted at school. Systems in 3,500 primary school libraries allow pupils to take out books by scanning their thumb prints instead of using a card.

But campaigners warn the technology is a massive invasion of privacy and a step towards a "database state". With an average primary school size of 200 pupils, pressure group No2ID says at least 700,000 pupils are regularly having their fingerprints scanned. And there are fears schools having children's fingerprints could lead to the information being stored on government computers with DNA records and personal details. It is also seen as "softening up" resistance before people are asked for biometric data such as eye-scans to put on compulsory identity cards. …

Andy O'Brien, managing director of Micro Librarian Systems which makes the fingerprint systems, insisted there was nothing sinister about the new scanning technology. He said: "Ultimately, this is completely optional. If parents object because they don't like the use of biometrics their children can still use a library card or pin number. But this can make libraries a really cool place to go for children."

Another priceless moment in that last sentence.

Leave The Kinds Alone campaigns 'against schools fingerprinting our children'. ARCH supports 'equality, choice, respect and privacy for all children and young people'.  Thanks to ORG for some of the links here. No2ID is here.

I go back to the end of the Guardian article:

Stephen Groesz, a partner with the law firm Bindmans, has been consulted by parents from Charles Dickens school in Southwark, and believes the system is illegal on several grounds. "Absent a specific power allowing schools to fingerprint, I'd say they have no power to do it." Police legislation, for example, is specific about when, by whom and how fingerprints may be taken and what they may be used for. "The notion you can do it because it's a neat way of keeping track of books doesn't cut it as a justification."

Privacy advocates say these systems have a more subtle danger: habituation. Andre Bacard, the author of The Computer Privacy Handbook, said if he wanted to build the surveillance society, "I would start by creating dossiers on kindergarten children so the next generation couldn't comprehend a world without surveillance." But who needs dossiers when you have fingerprints?

Thank God for the news that it may be a while yet (not 2008!) before ID cards become reality — Sunday Times and BBC News.

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