There is no doubt that biometrics are here to stay and I'm no Luddite about that. The general use of biometrics in UK society has been introduced to us all via our children, that it 'if' we are even aware they are using the technology.
In my opninion this has been grossly mishandled by the biometric industry. The perception could be that it has been introduced it by stealth, aided by laws in the UK that have enabled this situation to happen. In EU countries where Data Protection laws are more stringent, childrens biometrics are very rarely processed in schools.
Claims about biometric technology cannot be scrutenised to any great extent as schools and the previous government's apathy on the subject has not enabled any research to be done. Hence assertions made by industry and schools in defence of the use of biometrics in schools needs to be questioned.
Quoting from ASCL's General Secretary Brian Lightman:
"It [biometrics] means that students eligible for free school meals can take them up without being stigmatised" So does a pin number system or alternative touch system. No 'expensive' cards necessarily needed. If a school can get pupils to pass exams then it can surely get a pupil to remember a pin number.
"...and parents know their children are not buying lunch at the chip shop." Use a pin number system or alternative touch system.
"These systems prevent fraud and, with dinner money, intimidation and theft by other pupils."
Use a pin number system or alternative touch system. I've heard many an argument that using biometrics reduces bullying, such a claim indeed. Bullying exists in schools, therefore the school should deal with different bullying situations and teach children what is and what is not acceptable behavior, in all circumstances.
"Systems using cards are more expensive to install, more open to abuse and not as effective as cards are often lost, stolen or simply left at home." Use a pin number system or alternative touch system.
However, it could be argued that there are more benefits to the pupils than the administration of a school of having a card system. I.e. to encourage pupils to look after their identity, be aware where it is, how they have used it, see possible consequences if their identity card is lost, etc, none of which biometrics can really offer in the same way at the moment.
If the introduction use of biometrics had been made in the adult market in the UK we could possibly teach our chidlren how to manage the use of our biometrics, learn to keep track of where we have left our biometrics, who can access our biometric data and the data held against it, possible interoperability of biometric databases and where biometric data might end up, etc. We are unable to do this and I would interested to know if schools are doing this - my guess is they are not.
"The information could not be used to identify a student outside of the school, by the police or any other outside organisation." How does he know that for sure? As the ASCL and the biometric industry have close links maybe he got told that by them?
The reality is that there is software that enables Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) to communicate with each other so the possibility is there - see this link. Have any checks been carried out to see if his statement is correct? - no.
“Schools and colleges have invested heavily in this technology" You bet they have Brian. Here's Staffordshire County Council spending up to £4 million pounds on it.
“Biometrics in schools are a problem for a small number of pressure groups, not for parents." I'm a parent and the Leave Them Kids Alone website was set up by a concerned parent too.
In fact, as far as I know, any website dealing specifically with the civil liberties issues raised by using biometrics in schools, have been set up and run by parents. Oh, and the reason why privacy groups have brought up the matter of schools fingerprinting children without our knowledge, is mainly because we parents have contacted them.