Friday, January 18, 2013

Biometrics at Blacon

Blacon High School, West Cheshire, UK, implemented a fingerprint biometric catering system in June last year, 2012.

A letter was sent out Tuesday 12th June telling parents that the system would be going 'live' the following Thursday of the next week, 21st June.  With Blacon High School taking the children's biometrics on Monday 18th June.

That gave parents just 3 - 4 working days to read the letter (we parents do not always read letters the day we get them), do some research into biometrics in schools (which throws up a myriad of issues) and contact the school if they did "not want your child to be included in the system".

Mmmm... a hurried state of affairs here it seems.  Blacon High School's speedy communication in relation to biometric registration is very similar to how other schools have operated.
In most instances of parents contacting this blog and the Leave Them Kids Alone site, this type of hurried biometric implementation has also been experienced.  One could argue that this method allows less time for parental objection, so that a higher, more covert, proportion of pupil biometric take up is ensured.

Certainly in my experience more than 3 working days notice is commonly given for normal school activities, dates to be put in diaries, to allow consent for school trips, food tasting, swimming, collection of monies, vaccinations, sports days, etc.

Not so in this instance.

Understandably some parents and the wider community were shocked at the notion of schools taking, storing and processing their children's biometrics - and at Blacon High School's speedy implementation of the fingerprint biometric system.

This resulted in articles and letters in the local papers with parents contacting political parties for support and accountability.  Parents have taken legal advice, set up a Facebook Group "Refuse to use" and are contacting the wider community to spead awareness and gather support against the biometric system.

Apart from all the privacy and civil liberties issues surrounding children submitting their biometrics for school functions, as this blog has detailed before, the question has to be asked:

Why would a school with 449 pupils (see 6th March  2012 Ofsted Inspection) buy a biometric system in 2012 when come September 2013 all UK schools have to by law, as detailed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, collect one parental signature per child to enable the school to take and process a child's biometrics?

Why is there no mention of the new biometric system on Blacon High School's website or their Data Protection Register entry?  See the Information Commissioner's Office quote about the register "The main purpose of the public register is transparency and openness".

Not only does Blacon High School have to collect one parent's signature in order to collect a child's biometric data but the school has to be seen to make an effort to contact both parents.  In Blacon High School's case 998 parents for the new cashless catering system and the school need to also have in place a duplicate, alternative system for those parents and children who do not consent.

How efficient is that a spend of our UK tax payers monies?  Two systems.  A bad school management decision? Who is accountable?

On a lighter note...

What is betting that Blacon High School give parents more than 3 - 4 working days to give their written consent in order for the school to run their newly purchased biometric system?   If one child's biometric data resides on Blacon High School's biometric system without a signed parental consent form come September 1st 2013, the school will be breaking the law,

I suspect there may be a few eyes watching how Blacon High School complies with the forthcoming enforceable legislation over the coming months.  I think more to come on this.

Monday, January 07, 2013

"...the definition of privacy means something different today than it did five years ago”

I didn’t know quite where to come from on this one from the School Transportation News, the fact that on company "offers a touchless fingerprint scanning system, which claims to read fingerprints from up to 6 meters away" or the quote that comes from Jay Ange, the Director of Sales, at IDair, Alabama, the company selling the touchless fingerprint scanners.

Still, privacy issues remain as the general public may not know exactly how biometric fingerprint technology works, but the definition of privacy means something different today than it did five years ago, Ange said.”

“the definition of privacy means something different today than it did five years ago”.  I would agree 100% with that statement.  We all need to be super vigilant about the information trail each of us leaves every day, how and where we travel, buy goods, use energy (with the advent of smart meters), images caught on CCTV and be especially aware if technology exists that scans your fingerprint from 6 meters away...

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Parent pressure in Maryland USA scrap school palm scanners

Parent pressure in Carroll, Maryland, has persuaded the school district to scrap controversial palm scanners in 10 schools after parents "said the system violated their children's privacy".

John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute and a constitutional lawyer asked School Superintendent Stephen Guthrie to review using an opt-in process, as Whitehead said "with private information and kids, I much prefer an opt-in" and here in the UK our parliamentarians agree in this.  

This opt-out form of gaining consent was used in the UK and has been much criticized. Opt-in consent enacted into law May 2012 becomes enforceable September 2013.

Stephen Guthrie made this rather surprising statement "We felt the scans fell under normal school process."   Really?  Is it 'normal' for schools to take a child's biometric marker in exchange for food?  Adults do not do that in society so why on earth would it be a "normal school process" to introduce a system, alien to the society outside a school, that normalises such a disproportionate use of biometrics - with children? 

As with all biometric systems sold to teachers, a solution is pitched to speed up lunch lines, streamline operations and cut costs.  Teachers being told it's normal technology to use in schools.  Normal for whom? 

Surely if these teachers in schools actually sat back and really thought about it... really? ...fingerprinting kids for lunch?  Infra-red palm scanning for food?  Is it really worth trading a child's personal biometrics to shave a few dollars off a budget?  

Children have rights, and society's morals, ethics and civil liberties outside school must permeate to within a school too.  Thankfully these parents enabled this to happen.