Monday, March 19, 2007

House of Lords Peers "slam" fingerprinting

The BBC reports on today's debate in the House of Lords regarding the unregulated use of biometric fingerprint technologies used in schools.

Lord Adonis's views are very much towing the Labour Education Departments line on this issue, which really doesn't concur with cross parties views on this at all, or even some members of his own party.

He said fingerprints were destroyed once pupils left the school , [wrong], and were only taken with parents' consent [wrong]

He said biometric systems could improve the take-up of free school meals, as there was no "stigma" attached and many schools were using the systems "without any contention whatever".

Could it improve the take up of free school meals? Who knows? Is there a "stigma" to taking a library book out, registering in class or using biometric technology to use a vending machine in school?

Many schools are using the systems, he states, "without any contention whatever" - possibly because parents are not aware that their children are using fingerprint systems and if/when are made aware they get an industry spiel in a school newsletter with no informed consent whatsoever.

In actual fact there has been contention with the technology and as a result some schools have pulled the systems favouring the non biometric route - some such schools are not only in the UK but in China and Hong Kong.

Lord Adonis goes on to say: "I think there is a certain amount of scaremongering in your question, which I regrettably don't accept on the basis of the information that has been made available to my department."

What information has he had "made available" to his department? Certainly the Labour Education Department have so far not been able to comment on:

1. How many schools use the technology
2. How many thousands of children have been 'fingerprinted'
3. On how parental consent should be sought
4. How much money has been spent on these systems
5. Any research they have undertaken, showing that using these systems in schools have an end benefit to children
6. The cost effectiveness of the systems (sometimes weighing in at £20k)
7. Consultancy undertaken prior to biometric systems being introduced into schools
8. Legal opinion on parental consent issues
9. Security of data held/deletion of data
10. Any guidelines they have given to schools

etc,etc, (...could go on for a bit here)

Maybe a Freedom of Information request could be made of Lord Adonis to see exactly what information he has had "made available" to his department, that makes him regard Baroness Warmsley's question quite so dismissively.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Only today I was party to a presentation by a manufacturer of cashless catering systems for schools, and it was made explicitly aware to me that the biometric system, which is not a fingerprint scanner but rather a finger-recognition system, does not use an image of the entire fingerprint, but rather uses a certain number of points on the print to create a pattern, which is then converted to a mathematical algorithm (code), which then is used as the account number.

Therefore, any suspicions about use of the fingerprint image are mistaken entriely, along with the fact that the system is kept completely separately to the school's database, and only pupil information available to the school's database is available to the system.

Pippa said...

Same argument is always used but not in the least relevent. See below comments:

"The stored numeric data cannot be used to reconstruct a fingerprint... nor can it be cross-referenced with other fingerprint databases such as those kept by the FBI or the Illinois State Police.

So, there is not enough stored info to reconstruct it, but just enough to differentiate the person's fingerprint from someone else's? How's that not usefull for lets say the Police or Government? And they adjust their system to import the data from these id-cards just as easily."

This above quote is from Bruce Schneier's post listed on this blog "Blog comments on Biometrics ins schools", see 13th comment down on Schneiers blog.

Government agencies use similar fingerprint technology to systems in schools here in the UK, when systems do not quite match technologies are developed so that they can be interchaged - this was being developed/talked about May 2005 so by now one would presume this is available for use now.

From the same post, Terry, 3rd from bottom:

"...the data cannot be used to reconstruct the fingerprint. This obscure phrasing is common among biometric vendors. It is almost certainly means its using fingerprint minutiae, i.e. the critical features. This is the core representation used in AFIS and many other finger-print matching systems (matching images is too slow).

Minutiae-based templates can be easily reused by the government, and there is an official interchange standard (M1) to help ensure systems can share and inter-operate on these forms.

Cross system exchange tests are currently being done at NIST, [National Institute of Standards and Technology] to ensure one company's templates work well in other peoples matching."

Anonymous said...

our childs fingerprint wasa taken without our consent aged 4 and then the scanner was removed as if nothing had happened and denied