Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some advice for School Governors

Over on Leave Them Kids Alone website a new page has been set up dealing with the issues surrounding biometrics used in schools for their governors to consider.

"Over the past few months, we have been approached by a number of governors and head teachers and asked for our understanding of the matter; the following represents the position as far as we are aware. We have sought clarification from a number of leading QCs and barristers in producing these guidelines, and have used our best endeavours to cover as many of the relevant issues as possible."

On security and spending budgets there are some very valid points.

"Certainly a standard personal computer connected to a fingerprint scanner lying around in a school library would not generally be considered adequately protected.

Governors have a duty to obtain 'best value' for their delegated budget. So an argument could be made that spending significant sums of money on optional modules may not be the best way to use the delegated budget."

School governors, if they are consulted on purchases of a biometric technology (as I am aware of some circumstances when they have not been), need to think very carefully of the possible implications of having biometrics in schools.

The question has to be asked – Why is it left to Leave Them Kids Alone to advise governors? and well done to them for doing so... but where is the Governments advice on this?

Labour MP’s, as seen by answers given in Parliament this year, have no solid advice to offer at all to schools, parents or governors. The answers given by the government have been so flimsy that Tom Watson, a Labour MP, has called for advice from the DfES - see his petition.

As Janette Owen wrote in the Guardian only last week "We want information about fingerprinting - and we want it now. "

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Tips for fingerprinting children"

This has to be seen to be believed. This page was online from November 2001 until September 14th 2006 when all trace of it suddenly disappeared, less than 12 hours after Leave Them Kids Alone website brought it to public attention. LTKA's site details how the council have made no comment on this - what could they say! Thanks to the Internet Archive it is still available online.

I personally find the last sentance appalling.

"You may need to guide the thumb to the scanner" This 'advice' was on Dudley Council's website for nearly 5 years.

I find the mental image of a teacher physically guiding a childs hand to a fingerprint scanner very disturbing. What would the psychological effect of this have on a young child? It would be difficult to imagine a dissenting 16 year old's thumb being guided to a scanner. Older children are more aware of their rights and in some cases high school students have refused to have their biometrics used for access to books, lunches and computers. Younger children are not aware of their rights and are more bidable, is this where the above 'advice' is applicable?

Thank goodness Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council have withdrawn it, buts lets face it, it shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Surely this is advert enough to urgently review what exactly is happening in schools with biometric technology.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Police analyse suspects fingerprints - with their permission

UK police are now trialing a system that analyses fingerprints from adults using technology similar to that used in our schools.

Trials are now being used by the UK police to check suspected criminals in a scheme known as Lantern whereby after scanning the subject’s index fingers the encrypted data is sent via wireless transmission to the central fingerprint database to be compaired against the 6.5 million fingerprints stored there.

BBC News today - “police officers will be able to check the fingerprints from both index fingers of the suspect - with their permission - against a central computer database”

In the media this is ringing alarm bells with civil liberties groups.

Ironic indeed that under our very noses every day and week children have this done routinely in our schools - quite often without parental permission or knowledge.


“[police officers] schools will be able to check the fingerprints from both index fingers of the [suspect] pupil – with-out their (or their parents) informed permission - against a central computer database”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils?"

Janette Owen writes today in the Guardian “Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils.?”

“…what is best practice? What are the legal guidelines? What right does the school have to gather such information? What powers do parents have to withdraw their permission - and do governors have to tell parents?"

...Parents against fingerprinting have set up their own protest site called, and Action on Rights for Children, an internet-based children's rights organisation, is also actively campaigning.

"Amazingly, I can find no information or guidance for governors, or teachers, about the use of biometrics in schools. There is nothing on the DfES site, except a link to the parents centre discussion thread, nothing on governornet and nothing on the site of the Information Commissioner's Office, who is responsible for the enforcement of the Data Protection Act.

This is yet another example of the DfES failing to respond to the needs of governors - and all other stakeholders - for information on a topical and developing subject. Why can't the department tackle the issues that are being so hotly debated on its own websites?"

I agree.

These are questions myself, other parents, human and civil rights organisations, county/city councillors and MP’s want the answer to as concerns grow over the use of biometric technology in our schools.

Labour's Education Depatment have given some 'answers' on the biometric issue., here are the ‘answers’ the government has given after written parliamentary questions put by Nick Gibb, Conservative Schools Minister in February this year, Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson in July and again by Nick Gibb last month:

Feb 2006 - Jacqui Smith: My Department has issued no guidance to schools on the collection and recording of pupils' biometric information. In collecting data of this type the school is likely to rely on the broad powers contained in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 of the Education Act 2002. This enables a governing body to do anything which appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with the conduct of the school.

July 2006 - Beverley Hughes: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 27 February 2006, Official Report, column 504W, to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). [above]

October 2006 - Jim Knight: The Department has not issued guidance to school governors on whether they should consult parents before implementing a policy of taking thumb prints for library issues… The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) published guidance for schools in 2004 on their obligations and responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and other related legislation.

So then, schools are operating within the "broad powers" of the Education Act and on the advice of a large NGO, BECTA. I sense a severe lack of government advice here on where the Labour Education Department and DfES stands on fingerprinting pupils.

Janette's last sentence in her article says it all -

"We want information about fingerprinting - and we want it now. "

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tom Watson Petition

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, has a petition at - get clicking!!!

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that the DFES provide guidelines for the use of biometric technologies in schools.
Submitted by Tom Watson, – Deadline to sign up by: 15 December 2006

Concerns over biometrics in Scottish schools

After the installation of a vein palmprint reader for the canteen at a Glasgow primary school this term, the issue of biometrics in schools has again been raised in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament Business Bulletin today lists:

*S2M-5171 Ms Rosemary Byrne: Biometric Scanning of Children

That the Parliament condemns the decision of Renfrewshire Council to install a biometric scanner system in Todholm Primary School in Paisley; believes that this is an unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of children and their families; condemns the Scottish Executive for allowing this system to be installed without a debate in the Parliament to discuss the implications of such a measure and its apparent inability to answer parliamentary questions on the matter, including questions on what company is supplying the system, the cost of the system, who is paying for the system, who stores the personal data collected, what safeguards are in place with regard to the storage of the data and whether parents had an opt-out of the system; believes that the introduction of such a system may be in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and calls on the Executive to initiate a full debate in the Parliament as a matter of urgency on the issue. [my emphasis]

"what company is supplying the system"
The company supplying the system is Yarg Biometrics who have worked in conjunction with Fujitsu to develop this vein reading technology.

"cost of the system"
The cost of the system is unknown but I suspect it is not as cheap as a cash till or the system previously operated.

"who is paying for the system"
Amey have a Private Finance Initiative, PFI, programme in Scotland with Glasgow City Council - the largest education partnership in Europe. The Private Finance Initiative is paid for by us - the taxpayer. Amey were responsible for bringing the palm print vein scanner to the Todholm Primary in Paisley.

"who stores the personal data collected"
Unknown - probably the school but who else has access to it - ?
Presumably reports will be generated by the data stored against each child and those reports will probably be analysed by the LEA and Amey.

"parental opt out option"
Shouldn't it be an "opt in option" i.e. discussion first, purchase/commission technology later?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Electronic ID with option for fingerprinting in Czech Schools

This from the Prague Post in Czechoslovakia, the Konečná Street Elementary School is just about to launch a scheme that involves electronic identification cards for registration purposes otherwise known as “Presence” by the CCA Group.

Bohumír Sobota, Deputy Director of the school in Karlovy Vary, …is getting resistance from members of his own staff.

"While 50 percent of school employees welcome the idea, the other 50 percent are keeping their distance," he said. "We are going to test the system for six months, during which time teachers will get to know it better — even if we might have to push some of them a little bit."

The notion for Presence came when CCA began to sell student chip cards to schools for opening doors or use in dining rooms. Several school administrators proposed integrating an attendance component into the cards. CCA ran with the idea, also introducing the option of fingerprinting.

Systems similar to Presence were the main surprise in this year's nominations for Prague's Big Brother Awards, said Filip Pospíšil of Iuridicum Remedium, the civic rights group that gives out the awards.

"There is a real reason to be concerned," he said. "They educate students that their privacy is not important, that their privacy is something that can be taken from them."

Yet again privacy issues are raised with children unassumingly at the centre of this – AKA the data subjects. I wonder how long it will take before Czechoslovakia desensitises to electronic ID and moves onto biometrics for registration and the myriads of other uses it can be put to in schools. The lack of listening to teachers concerns then "pushing" them to accept systems they are not happy with and the absense of informing parents sounds disapointingly familiar.

Parents were not notified about the impending system, Sobota said - I wonder why, given the teachers concerns...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scottish Council halts fingerprinting in schools

Whilst Dundee City Council (Scotland) have given assurance that the controversial fingerprinting of children is no longer being carried out in schools under their jurisdiction, neighbouring Stirling Council quotes "The Scottish Executive are committed to introducing cashless catering systems in all schools by 2007"

The Green Party in Scotland believe children should be taught the importance of civil liberties and have led a campaign in the Scottish Parliament on the use of biometric data with children.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow says "children should be taught in an environment which respects their autonomy and privacy and, indeed, encourages them to hold their civil liberties in high regard".

It is clear that biometrics for children our schools are causing very differing views on whether it should be implemented. If this technology is needed in schools, clear guidelines are needed. In the meantime, without regulation, it is an open door to biometric companies in our educational “market”, especially with the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme getting into full swing over the next few years.

Our UK Data Protection Acts states:

The Data Protection Priciples, Part I, The Principles
3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

Children who’s biometric information is held on school databases is often held alongside their photograph, address, gender and ethnicity, to log meals eaten, books read, time in and out of classes – is this excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed” ? – I would suggest so.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rolling it out in the States

There are more than 48 million school children in America, the implications for families, schools and business are huge over there - but where is the debate on this? Different states have different laws on biometrics in schools, some parents are asked for permission some are not asked for permission...

As schools are rolling this out in America, concerns are being voiced by parents, privacy groups and senators.

Rome NewsTribune, USA - “It may be perfectly secure, but my daughter is a minor and I understand that supposedly the kids have the option to not have their prints scanned but that’s not being articulated to my daughter,” said Hal Storey “If parents don’t know about it, they don’t know about the ‘opt out’ option.”

Storey’s issue is he was never notified or given information on the system before his 10th grade daughter’s finger was scanned.

ABC , USA - The Hope Elementary School District has
notified parents that, beginning this month, students at Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and Hope elementary schools will press an index finger to a scanner before buying cafeteria food.

"It raises sanitary issues, privacy issues, it is kind of Orwellian,"
said Tina Dabby, a parent of two at Monte Vista Elementary. "It just sounds kind of creepy."

CBN , USA- Chris and Joy Van Guilder recently moved to
Earlville, Illinois with their four children. Chris is opposed to biometrics.

Chris said, "Just red flags all over. I could just feel it
inside me--something is not right...We know this technology can be abused and used for controlling reasons."

Illinois State Senator Miguel Del Valle took action after learning of the Van Guilder's situation. His biometric bill requires parental permission, opt-out policies, and the protection of childrens' data. Del Valle said, "Lists are sold of personal information and so we want to make sure that that doesn't happen with children."

In the UK too:

icLiverpool, UK - Councillor Paul Clein, executive member for education, said:

"I do have misgivings about it and it is something that parents should have to actively agree to... any attempt by schools to force children to take part is wrong, and I would be very concerned if it became part of entry criteria, for example...I suppose it is a reflection of the times we live in, but I do not know where we draw the line."

MorecombeToday, UK - County Councillor Chris Coates, who represents Lancaster Central, said it was "too much of a Big Brother sledgehammer...what I'm really concerned about is that there has been no debate on this issue," he said"It seems to have been introduced without any consultation and real thought over the implications debate...The first I heard about it was when I was approached by a parent over the summer and I'm sure there are many people that don't know their children are being fingerprinted...It is such a big issue that we need a full debate to see if it's a road that we really want to go down."

Oxford Mail, UK - City Councillor Claire Kent found out about the system from her children, who attend the school.

She said: "They were told the data is not being shared with anyone else - but I don't believe that...It is something I would have liked to have been consulted on. What are they doing with the information? I'm very anxious that it doesn't get abused."

The Register, UK - A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: "Fingerprinting has to be done in consultation with parents and teachers and not imposed. By consultation, we are talking about proper consultation, giving parents time to respond, not installing the machines and then asking parents,"

Plus, there are concerns and issues raised by privacy groups here and in the States.

Biometrics in schools possibly makes queuing, paying for food/school trips a quicker process, registration less time consuming for the teacher, library book issue more streamlined but apart from the civil liberties concerns and worries over what will happen to the data stored now in the decades to come - it also removes the personal human element from school, a 'hello' from the school librarian or dinner lady and that important initial contact in school registration between teacher pupil.

Why are we road testing this technology on our children? Biometrics in schools doesn’t benefit children - biometrics benefits the data collectors not the data subjects/givers.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hong Kong stops fingerprinting in schools

An approach which is wise and prudent. See The Register, Mark Ballard's article from yesterday:

The Hong Kong privacy commissioner has ordered a school to stop fingerprinting children before it becomes a runaway trend that is too late to stop.

The school, in the Kowloon District, installed the system last year but, under the order of the Hong Kong Privacy Commission, has ripped it out and destroyed all the fingerprint data it had taken from children.

Roderick Woo, Justice of the Peace at the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner, told El Reg [The Register] he had decided to examine the issue immediately after the first school installed a fingerprint reader to take registers in his jurisdiction.

And, he decided: "It was a contravention of our law, which is very similar to your law, which is that the function of the school is not to collect data in this manner, that it was excessive and that there was a less privacy-intrusive method to use."

This is prudent move by Hong Kong and the UK government should stop and take note.

At least let us put a stop to the purchase of educational biometric systems now and have an urgent and open debate on whether this type of technology under our UK law is an excessive method of storing our children's data. Canteen payment, registration, library books in/out - all of these are not learning resources, all of these can operate are they did before with no detriment to pupils education.

Whether "ripping" biometric systems out of schools, after the millions of pounds this government has spent on them via eLearning Credits, would seem doubtful now. How many millions of eLearning credits and schools budgets have been spent on these systems is a figure known only to the government. It must be a great deal as the educational biometrics market is definately growing.

If the 'difficult' processes of library cards, paying for food and registration were not running smoothly enough then why didn't government spend a bit on money on improving them by extra staff? This surely would have been a cheaper, more user friendly option option... no, actually I suspect these systems were running okay in the grand scheme of things and certainly not badly enough to warrant spending millions of pounds on them... but what a great way to collate data, generate reports and desensitise our children to the new technology.

I'll let Roderick Woo have the last say...

"'s not a good way to teach our children how to give privacy rights the consideration they deserve,"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To be fair...

To be fair, Marek Rejman-Greene who is currently Head of the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, has also headed a team of European researchers who produced the IST (Information Society Technologies) programme-funded BioVision Roadmap, commented:

"People may have rational or irrational concerns about biometrics, but from my own experience the majority of the population would accept such systems if they are informed of how they work, what data is retained, how that information is used and, especially, if they are given some form of redress if something goes wrong... most importantly, any deployment of biometric systems - be it in the public or private arena - should involve consultation with all interested parties, especially end users."

Though common EU frameworks exist in areas such as personal privacy, and health and safety no such legislation yet governs the use of biometrics, which is seen principally as a data protection issue and therefore remains the responsibility of individual Member States.

This article was dated October 2004. A Code of Conduct was being worked towards with regards to biometric technology in Europe. Whether that has been achieved? - I don't know.

If one exists - it should be applied in our schools where the children's/educational biometric business is booming, not just the UK but in Europe as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Adult biometrics or Children biometrics?

Appearing on a panel discussion at the Biometrics 2006 show in London speaking on ID cards, Marek Rejman-Greene, a senior biometrics advisor for the Home Office's scientific development branch said:

"I'm surprised how little we know about how people interact with this technology"

"We don't have any idea of the right things to do. We need more research about how people confront this technology, especially if the process goes wrong."

Rejman-Greene said little research has been done into how well equipment would bear up under constant use. if I may make a suggestion here Mr Greene, why don't we test it first on one of our vulnerable groups in our society? - children.

Iron out any technical problems with them, and when we're done testing our children's "confrontation" to biometric technology the technology can then be introduced to the next generation...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Building Schools for the Future - BSF.

The Government has a spending plan of £2.2 billion over 2005/6 to provide new and improved schools. The aim is to rebuild or renew every secondary school in England. Local Educational Authorities or Learning Authorities (LA's) are working with large companies to deliver the BSF programme.

ICT is an integral part of these schools, delivering learning, internet access, school management, reporting, etc...

Current BSF projects are incorporating biometrics in with this ICT for the usual canteen, library and registration processes.

Whilst I welcome to use of technology in schools in the aproppiate setting, having different systems with different forms of biometric data on e.g. fingerprint, iris scanning, palmprint, is a responsibility the school must take very seriously. Ensuring alternative technology for those children who not wish to participate with their biometrics must be incorporatedso no discrimination happens.

I know you cannot un-invent a technology, but it does seem that our children are the target population of introducing the notion of biometric exchange for access/information. There are serious concerns over adult biometric ID cards, given the Governments disastrous track record of database security and control so what assurances can we have that these schools systems are secure?

But as one of the most surveilled nations in the world I am at a loss as to why we are doing this to the next generation without X-file type conspiracy theories popping in my head!

Just nice to know we're not alone now - the USA is rolling out biometric technology in schools all over the country, with a few exceptions of some states - see my previous blog October 26th.