Saturday, April 28, 2007

Attendance, books, lunches and computer access

From the Sun Sentinel, South Florida: "Pine Crest Elementary is testing scanners [on school children] that eventually could be used in all Seminole schools

"Let's see how the parents and community respond to it," said John Tracy, who is in charge of technology for Seminole County Public Schools.

Only a handful of parents refused to let their children take part in the experiment at Pine Crest Elementary, the first use of the scanners in Central Florida schools. The school is testing a system produced by Educational Biometric Technology, a Minnesota firm that hopes to move heavily into the schools."

The board is expected to review test results in June and decide whether to expand the program. The $100,000 startup cost could be a snag.

ACLU have had this to say about biometrics in schools.

Parents in Taunton, Massachusetts, had biometric technology withdrawn from schools, at a cost of $40,000+ , when an open debate was had with the school committee regarding parental consent and informed use of the technology with children.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Sheffield forum debate on biometrics in schools

Over on the Sheffield forum there is currently an emotive debate about biometrics in schools, with views from both sides.

The majority of posts are not happy about this technology in schools, with one 'poster' just finding out, two days ago, that her daughter was fingerprinted at school without her consent, and a post here in response to a school employee's defence of biometrics in schools.

With wise words coming from Iain McKie, Shirley McKie's father on page 4, 25th April 07.

"Like a medicine introduced in haste there is a very real danger that the side effects of this continuing love affair with biometrics will end up being even more dangerous than the ills they are supposed to cure."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Consent and Security

Futurelab published a well written article (Now archived here) in December last year, in their bi-annual magazine 'Vision', about surveillance in schools concentrating mainly on biometric systems. It clearly defines the two issues that concern parents and security experts:

First, the taking and storage of the biometric data itself. Second, the lack of consultation beforehand. The second of these issues is as contentious as the first, even though the DfES said in September 2006 that, in its view, schools do not need to ask permission.

The fingerprint module in Junior Librarian, for example, is bought in from a third-party company that supplies its technology to a range of other vendors for many other uses. Isn't it possible that today's database of children's fingerprints, sometime in the future, could unlock some completely different application and set of data?

This from Terence Boult on Bruce Schneier's blog from 2005.

"This obscure phrasing ["The data cannot be used to reconstruct the fingerprint"] is common among biometric vendors... to make people feel its more private and/or safer. 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... to ensure one company's templates work well in other peoples' matching."

One would presume that this side of biometric technology has matured even since then.

On issues of security, with no awareness at any level of how many regular schools computers currently store children's biometric data - how then do we know when their data gets stolen or compromised? For certain when schools get broken into it's not pens and paper that get stolen.

The issue of children's consent remains a contentious issue, especially when they are in a compliant environment. Systems in schools should be on an "opt in" basis, this would force a school to explain the technology thoroughly to parents and also give both parents and pupils time for research themselves. Without informed consent we stand a very real risk of teaching the next generation to be casual with their personal biometric data.

Futurelab, who received major start-up funding from the Department for Education and Skills, DfES, has this last comment on the subject:

Maybe the time has come for a debate on this issue so that we can all fully understand both the positive and negative aspects of using surveillance technology in schools - and then, at least, we can all make an informed choice as to whether or not to sign up.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Guidance out in May

I was advised yesterday, by the Department of Education, that guidance for schools and PFI bidders incorporating biometric systems in schools is now due to be released after the local elections on May 3rd 2007.

The guidance will be released on BECTA's website.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Parent pressure works in Taunton, MA.

Taunton, Massachusetts, schools district committee have "banned the scan" [this link now broken, see here for story]after parents successfully put a solid case together opposing the use of the technology in schools for lunch line payments.

Initially all children were going to be fingerprinted regardless of whether or not they had a school lunch. After nearly 5 months of campaigning these parents have convinced the school board it is an inappropriate technology to be used with children. With security experts around the world echoing the concerns of parents this has been an expensive $40,000 lesson for the school district to learn.

It is clearly is the case now that the drive to improve administration time along with the industry's marketing should be carefully weighed up with parental consultation and informed research into the technology before purchase.

"I am thrilled that the battle is won, but the war is not over," said parent Patti Crossman, minutes after her rallying cry, "Ban the Scan," had finally reached beyond the button on her shirt and materialized as school policy.

Crossman and a determined team of parents, new faces joining each week, have attended each school committee meeting since the issue first surfaced in February.Each night, they took over the podium, one by one, carefully delivering their argument layer by layer.

And piece by piece, the committee listened, some members spending hours outside of public session researching the controversial technology for themselves.

"I am very happy that the committee 'banned the scan,' " Crossman said. "It gives us more time to work with our state legislators to get laws in place, without worrying that the scanning will have already begun.

What can I say - well done to the parents and school committee for looking into this and making a informed decision. Lets hope the legislators now follow suit.

Well done Patti and all!

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Royal Academy of Engineering on biometric technology

The Royal Academy of Engineering published a report last month titled 'Dilemmas of Privacy and Surveillance Challenges of Technological Change'.

The subject of biometric technology is dealt with on page 23 of the report:

The more biometric identification is used and the larger the database of biometric information, the greater the likelihood of false matches between a person’s biometric information and records on databases become.

This could result in people being under suspicion of serious crime if their fingerprints are falsely matched with those on a database of fingerprints found at crime scenes.

A police officer in Scotland (Shirley McKie) lost her job because her fingerprints were incorrectly identified as being present in a crime scene that she should not have entered. If systems which use biometrics as a means of identification are regarded as failure proof, then innocent individuals will suffer.

Shirley McKie's father, Iain, posted a recent comment to this blog. They, unfortunately, have had first hand experience of how devastating it can be when biometric identification fails.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Valid concerns from the USA

Patricia Deubel, Ph.D, voices her comments on the use of biometrics in schools, in the article "Biometrics in K-12: The Legal Conundrum", 10th April 2007, on the site The Journal, which is a publication aimed at educators across the USA. Although not a lawyer she cites some cautionary advice using this technology with children in schools.

Biometrics are among the latest implementations for school security. There are many issues to consider, which have been voiced by parents, students, and civil liberties groups.

The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act protects student records and might provide some protection for public disclosure of records stored in databases containing a student's biometric measurements...

And also James Carroll, writing "Fingerprint foreboding" in the Boston Globe, 9th April 2007, has his view on biometrics in schools after working for the FBI. The last part his article, below, is quite succinct:

Privacy, the dictionary says, is the state of being free from unsanctioned intrusion. But that definition seems anachronistic, with ubiquitous intrusion a new fact of life. For security, or mere efficiency, we Americans are sanctioning the end of our right to deny sanction to such invasion.

Now, of course, it is not just law enforcers in the mode of J. Edgar Hoover who have the capacity to intrude, but also MasterCard, the credit bureaus, the Google user, the phone company, the e-mail provider, the airport screener --
and the lunch room cashier in the local school.

And why shouldn't parents be uneasy?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Regulation deadline has not been met by Government for millions of children's biometrics held on school PC's

Both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives are vocalising their serious concerns about using biometric fingerprint scanners in schools (see blog side bar of parliamentary questions asked), and experts such as Kim Cameron express worries about this practise.

Even BECTA recognises the "concerns of parents" and internationally Roderick Woo, Justice of the Peace at the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner, states about the use of biometrics in schools:
"I considered the consent of the staff and pupils rather dubious, because primary school's consent in law cannot be valid and there's undue influence. If the school says, 'give up your fingerprint', there's no way of negotiating.
"Also it's not a good way to teach our children how to give privacy rights the consideration they deserve,"
The Irish Data Commissiors Office has this guidance issued and warns schools about the danger of legal action, "claim for damages from a student", if they don't implement a detailed Privacy Impact Assessment.

There are laws in the USA regulating this technology and children.
But when schools send letters like this school in Doncaster did to parents, and another example over on Tarique Naseem's blog something is radically wrong.
What is going on when we parents have to sign slips for our child's image to be taken but yet when it comes to their bodily biometric data lying on a school PC - no consent, no even letting us know, no nothing!
Why, when ALL the above people and more are expressing serious concerns with fingerprinting children in schools, is the government not moving on the promised guidelines,as stated from 10 Downing Street , it said it would issue at the end of March?

Monday, April 09, 2007

School PCs storing up to nearly 6 million children's biometrics?

The Independent have this article about schools fingerprinting children.

"Almost six million children at 17,000 schools could have their fingerprints taken, intensifying fears of the growth of a "surveillance society" where personal information is gathered from cradle to grave."

With just over 9 million school children in the UK this amounts to nearly two thirds of the school population that could have their biometrics stored on a school PC without the school having to ask for parental consent.

The DfES were planning to issue guidelines on this practise at the end of March via the BECTA -British Educational Communications and Technology Agency's - website (who are an NGO). Non have been forthcoming so far.

See the following BECTA site searches for 'fingerprint' and 'biometric'. If anyone can find any guidelines there please let me know.

Friday, April 06, 2007

"People have to be stark, raving mad to use conventional biometrics to improve the efficiency of a children’s lunch line"

More on biometrics in schools again, over on Kim Cameron's weblog, the Architect of Identity and Access in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft.

This post here from him states:

"The more I learn from Alex Stoianov about the advantages of Biometric Encryption, the more I understand how dangerous the use of conventional biometric templates really is. I had not understood that the templates were a reliable unique identifier reusable across databases and even across template schemes without a fresh biometric sample.

People have to be stark, raving mad to use conventional biometrics to improve the efficiency of a children’s lunch line."

When this comes from Kim Cameron, alarm bells should be ringing loud and clear for those schools using this technology and for apathetic government departments letting this go ahead completely unregulated.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Massachusetts, USA, considering legislation regarding biometrics in schools

With regards to parents that are advocating a law to regulate the use of fingerprint scanners in schools in Massachusetts, State Senator Marc R. Pacheco , a Taunton Democrat, is considering legislation on the use of biometrics in schools.

New Hampshire has the following provision, RSA 189:49-a 'for the sole purpose of providing a means by which a missing child might be located or identified', in place covering fingerprinting children regarding parental consent, mentioned here - does this cover parental consent for fingerprint scanning in schools for lunch, registration, library issue, etc, as well?

Maybe such regulations could do with expanding on to include the other uses of biometrics with children so there is no ambiguity in the law.

Biometric lunch line runs up student debts in Idaho

Times News magazine reports that in Twin Falls schools, Idaho, the cashless biometric fingerscan system is racking up debts of up to "$600 in unpaid lunches - the highest unpaid school-lunch balance in the school's history."

Lunch trays of hot food were dumped in the rubbish bin! 150 students were given a 'sack lunch' whilst being charged full price hot meals.

It was perfectly legal, and it was not done to set those students apart from the others," said Mary Lu Barry, secondary programs director for the Twin Falls School District. "It was done to send the message to students that if they want regular school lunch they have to pay the fee."

But even after this humiliation some students didn't pay up.

"What we found is that most of the students had the money, but they just weren't paying for their lunch," she said. "On Monday, some of the students just went to their lockers and got the money to pay for their lunch."

Just as the Boston Globe reports that lunch line fingerprint scanners have been delayed in Taunton, Massachusetts, as a result of privacy and security concerns, perhaps now a cost evaluation study should be done as well to see whether or not other cases of debt have happened with similar cashless lunch systems.

Bearing the associated student debt in Twin Falls, maybe the $40,000+ planned to be spent on similar systems in Massachusetts should be carefully considered.

I wonder what children are actually learning from all this?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Biometrics scrutinised

Over on Kim Cameron's Identity Weblog he has been discussing the issues of using biometrics in schools.

Rather than duplicate points that are made in the Identity Weblog posts, reading the below is recommended, especially when it comes from the Architect of Identity and Access in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft:

Biometric encrytion - 1st April "The fine discussion of the problems with conventional biometrics leaves one more skeptical than ever about their use in schools and pubs"

A sweep of their tiny fingers - 1st April "“As they munch their sloppy joes, these five and six year olds are happily ushering in the age of biometrics with a sweep of their tiny fingers…” Fox News"

Will biometrics grow up? - 31st March "Reading this paper will explain why it is way too early to use biometrics in schools - or pubs."

Hong Kong teaches London about civil liberties - 29th March "The school ripped out its system and destroyed all the fingerprint data it had taken from children"

U.K. wants beerdrinkers’ fingerprints - 29th March "Britain, get a grip!"

Mass fingerprinting of children will start in 2010 - 29th March "The plans are outlined in a series of “restricted” documents circulating among officials in the Identity and Passport Service"

If they don’t scan, they don’t eat - 29th March "As a professional detective, Joy Robinson-Van Gilder knows how easily fingerprint data can be obtained and misused. And as a mother, she is kicking up a one-person storm."

Make sure children are calm - 28th March "How to break four architectural laws in one go"

3,500 British schools fingerprinting their children - 27th March "British schools will be urged to seek parents’ permission before taking children’s fingerprints, under new guidelines. But calls to outlaw the controversial practice altogether have been rejected by the government."