Friday, October 02, 2020

Increase with online learning may need student's biometric data

With the increase of online learning the importance of verifying which student is sat in front of the screen, completing work, becomes a salient issue.  

Scotland have issued iPads to over 100,000 students and there is no authentic way of assuring who is doing the work on the iPad.  Whilst I am no fan of the use of biometrics with children this issue needs to be thought upon carefully as biometric tech could be considered to solve this conundrum.   

It will also be interesting to see attainment results with the use of iPads.  No doubt they will go up and this will be attributed to the success of 'educational iPad use' rather than kids finding ways to complete homework they find hard by getting others to do it.

Responses from councils in Scotland when asked under Freedom of Information about the how the authenticity of work, submitted via iPads, was checked were:

Teachers know the level to which their pupils are working and will discuss with their students if they have any doubt.

Teachers use their professional judgement to scrutinise all work undertaken by students, whether submitted electronically or on paper.

Pupils are encouraged to work collaboratively, learning from each other whilst understanding the consequences of plagiarism or submitting work which does not demonstrate their learning.  This is all part of pupils understanding their responsibility as a digital citizen.  We would also add that this is no different from other homework assignments.

The obvious glaring fact is that homework submitted on paper is far easier to spot authenticity rather than that of homework submitted electronically.  I, and everyone of my generation, knows how hard it was to offer in homework done by someone else in the good old days of pen and paper homework submission.

But electronic learning has been around for a fair few years and with the current global health situation the advent of online learning, electronic work submission and the increase of screen use for education is truly upon us and the digital age of education seems to be working.  

However, along with that, as one of the responses states above, pupils need to understand their responsibility as a "digital citizen" - fair enough.  But does the Ed Tech industry and the Department of Education understand their responsibility as digital caretakers of the next generations digitised data, collected through the ever increasing online learning epidemic?  I think a long hard stare at this is necessary.  

Over on Defenddigitalme's website there are numerous instances of digital deep dives into not just children's educational prowess but how and what they are using their computer for.  Flagged words, conversations had, search terms scrutinised, incorrect data logged against students, flawed analysis of work done - the latter being blindingly obvious with the inaccurate 'exam' results for student in July last year, affecting the university places and the potential career paths of thousands of students.

So whilst electronic learning will not take a step backwards, indeed it looks like increasing, there are many reasons why we must tread carefully into this new educational online world.  Responsibility must be had by both parents, being vigilant of what data educational apps siphon, and the learning community/industry driving this screen-learning environment forward.

Many studies, too numerous to list here but easily found online, are showing that too much screen time for young brains is not good. One Harvard paper states:

"Much of what happens on screen provides “impoverished” stimulation of the developing brain compared to reality"

And this from the USA National Institutes for Health:

"Early data from a landmark National Institutes of Health (NIH) study that began in 2018 indicates that children who spent more than two hours a day on screen-time activities scored lower on language and thinking tests, and some children with more than seven hours a day of screen time experienced thinning of the brain’s cortex, the area of the brain related to critical thinking and reasoning."

It is no wonder then that tech giant's children have very limited screen time and are sent to schools that do not use screens to educate with.

However, for the vast majority of children, screens will be used and with that will come the data mining that goes along with it.  And, I suspect, it will only be a matter of time before biometrics are used to verify who is at the device.

A desensitisation of the use of biometric data has happened over the past 2 decades with police forces (in the UK and abroad) widely using facial recognition, unwittingly on the population, without any parliamentary oversight, arguably tip toeing the line between whether the use is lawful or not.

However, in 2015 biometric facial scanning was introduced every 60 seconds to iPad learning in San Diego schools but a backlash on the grounds of privacy intrusion from parents scuppered the scheme.  Whether that backlash would happen again in this day and age remains to be seen.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Biometric fingerprint readers ditched for hygiene reasons... to be replaced by contactless biometric systems?

On Twitter schools have been spotted ditching biometric fingerprint readers for contactless cards due to hygiene reasons, which completely makes sense as this was one of the issues raised initially over 15 years ago when fingerprint scanners started appearing in schools.  

Though some biometric suppliers have been keen to stress that sterilising fingers before using biometric scanners is good to keep children 'safe'.


So as good as it is to see fingerprint scanners be replaced by less personally intrusive methods it does open the way for a contactless biometric system, i.e. facial recognition, to replace the touch fingerprint pad.

Which seems to be, somewhat, what has happened here at a UTC school in Leeds, UK, where Years 10 (14/15 year old) and Year 12 (17/18 years old) students have started school after having been shut since mid March 2020.  

A combined facial recognition and thermal imaging system has been installed to check student's temperature to identify each student whose temperature is taken.  However it has to be said they have ditched their fingerprint scanners for contactless cards, which was used for building entry, class registration and lunch payment.  The newly installed facial recognition has not directly replaced, on first glances, the fingerprint system but it is still registering the students with their biometric data.

We have also installed a high spec thermal camera in the reception area. This camera uses facial recognition technology to enable unobtrusive thermal imaging and temperature measurements of students and staff. An alert is issued to the Principal if someone’s temperature is above a certain level.

Every school in England and Wales that wishes to process an under 18 year old's biometric data, including facial recognition, needs explicit written parental consent to do so and it is uncertain whether this particular UTC has done that.  When questioned specifically on whether they had gained parental consent, as per the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the UTC replied:


Albeit it this is a reply on Twitter (which now looks to be unavailable) but it is not glaringly obvious that the school is operating this biometric system in line with UK legislation specifically aimed at schools processing children's biometric data - The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.  

The use of facial recognition in UK schools is also questionable under GDPR, the EU General Data Protection Regulations 2018.  Schools in France have been advised not to use facial recognition and a school in Sweden was fined for using the technology.  GDPR does not change at country borders or whether we are Brexiting so the use of facial recognition technology is certainly questionable in this UK school.

There are good reasons legislations are specifically put in place to protect children biometric data being unnecessarily processed and they should be adhered to.  


Monday, March 09, 2020

Fine for processing students’ fingerprints imposed on a school

Photo
A statement, issuing a fine, to a school from Poland’s Personal Data Protection Office (UODO), the equivalent to our Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), found the school to be in breach of the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) for using children's fingerprint data to allow access to their canteen.  The ruling stated that:

"The school processed special categories of data (biometric data) of 680 children without a legal basis, whereas in fact it could use other forms of students identification."

and
"...it is important to stress that the processing of biometric data is not essential for achieving the goal of identifying a child’s entitlement to receive lunch. The school may carry out the identification by other means that do not interfere so much in the child’s privacy. Moreover, the school makes it possible to use the services of the school canteen not only by means of fingerprints verification, but also electronic cards, or by giving the name and contract number. Thus, in the school, there are alternative forms of identification of the child’s entitlement to receive lunch."
Here in the UK biometric fingerprint readers have been used in schools since 1999.  Up to 2012 schools were using children's fingerprints quite often without informing parents or asking their permission, as a consequence after some pressure upon the UK Government to address this, legislation was passed in 2012 requiring schools to obtain parental permission to process their child's biometric data and offer an alternative means to the biometric system. 


However, a survey done by children's data privicacy group defenddigitalme found that even after the 2012 legislation parents were still unaware of options not to use the fingerprint system.

Children's biometric data needs to be secure for the child's lifetime - decades.  It does seem excessive to use biometric data for daily mundane tasks in school, when another form of ID is perfectly acceptable - we have expressed that view since 2005.

This point was also expressed in the UODO report according to Venturebeat:

'The final decision cited numerous facets of GDPR, including recital 38, which refers to specific provisions made for data protection of children, "it should be emphasised that children require special protection of personal data, as they may be less aware of the risks, consequences, safeguards, and rights they have in connection with the processing of personal data" the report found.'

If the Polish Data Protection Office have ruled this use of children's fingerprint biometrics as a violation of GDPR then presumably the same would apply to any school using such systems in the UK.

This is absolutely a GDPR issue we will be following up here in the UK.

The English text of the UODO decision is here and the Polish version here.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Biometric Consent for Scottish children in schools

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012,  Chapter 2 Protection of biometric information of children in schools etc. deals with consent required when schools process children's biometric data.  Unfortunately this part of the Act only applies to schools in England and Wales.  A Freedom of Information request sent to the Home Office clarifies this.

In order to help extend this consensual right to children in Scotland and Northern Ireland Freedom of Information requests were sent, in August 2018, to all 32 Local Government authorities in Scotland to ascertain how many schools were using biometric technology. 

Here are the results of the Freedoms of Information Request as of Early 2019:



There are plans in Scotland to introduce a Biometrics Commissioner 2019/2020 whose remit will only cover the justice sector in the country in the collection and processing of biometrics - Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority.

With the widening use of biometrics, especially the historic and current use in schools, concerns about the limiting scope of the forthcoming Scottish Biometrics Commissioner's role may be aired in the Scottish Parliament.

Any developments concerning this will be posted here.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

'Who knows what about me?'

The publication of the "Who knows what about me?" report today by the office of The Children's Commissioner for England highlights the huge amount of data gathered on children, including the use of biometric technology in schools.

5 salient points about biometric technology used in schools is listed in the infographic in this post.

Using one's biometric data is a more data intrusive way of accessing schools services than a PIN or swipe card.  This has been recognised by legislation and schools therefore are legally obliged to offer students an alternative means to access such services and must have consent, from both parents and students, if biometric data is to be taken and processed.

Schools in the UK have been using biometrics since 1999.   Often this was done without informing parents due to the fact that the Data Protection Act 1998 did not list biometrics as 'sensitive' personal information, hence parents permission or even knowledge that their children's biometric were being taken happened.

Many different types of biometric technology have been used in schools. The biometric most used is fingerprint.

Campaigning by parents lobbying Members of Parliament culminated, 13 years after schools started using the technology, with legislation covering consent to biometric processing in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Chapter 2.

It is prudent to minimise personal data given.  We have no idea if a child's biometrics given in the education system is compromised or shared, with other agencies or companies, the effect this may have later in their life.

Know your facts and consider keeping your child's biometric digital data from unnecessary use when an alternative means of identification will suffice.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Scottish schools Freedom of Information results so far...

This is an update on the Freedom of Information requests (FOIR) sent to all 32 Scottish local authorities in August to determine the use of biometrics in schools there.  This is with a view to extending the same rights that English and Welsh children have not to have their biometrics collected and processed in schools, with an entitlement to use an alternative way of accessing school services such a a PIN or swipe card.

Some interesting results have turned up in the two thirds of FOIRs that have been received back so far.  There seems to be two companies supplying the Scottish market with one most dominant.  The company that is most dominant also introduced the biometric fingerprint scanners in schools as early as 1999 and 2000.

This is a surprise to me as I was under the impression that schools in the UK started the introduction of fingerprint scanners for libraries in 2001when the below communications with a school biometric supplier, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), who oversees the Data Protection Act, and Department for Education (DfE) took place.  See bottom of this post.  So it would be interesting to see if the ICO and DfE knew about the earlier use of children using their biometrics and see any correspondence on that.

With the results from the FOIR so far it seems that currently around 5% of children in Scotland use their biometrics to access school systems, although I still have a third of the authorities yet to reply.  Even so this amounts to 35,000 plus children and that is only a snapshot of current usage.  Given that some authorities have been using biometrics in schools for nearly two decades, this significantly raises the amounts of children that have had their biometrics logged at schools in Scotland to the many tens of thousands, if not over the hundred thousand mark.  The current Scottish school population is just over 687,000 children.

When all of the Scottish authorities have responded I will post more here.




Thursday, August 30, 2018

Consent needed by schools to process biometric data

I do have other posts pending but as it is that time of year students start new schools I am re-posting this salient information, originally posted in May 2017.   Also see the UK Department for Education's 'Protection of biometric information of children in schools and colleges'

Schools obligations to students biometric data

It's that time of year again, when parents with children going up to high schools are encountering biometric systems in their children's new schools and are unsure of their rights to consent and what responsibilities the school has to ensure school services are not withheld from students who do not participate in their biometric system.  Hopefully this will clarify schools, parents and children's position.  A PDF version can be found here.

A school’s responsibility
A school cannot take and process a student’s, under 18 years old, biometric data without the consent of the parent/s or the student.  Consent must be given in writing from the parent/s.  Consent can be withdrawn at any time.



CONSENT
·         If one parent consents and the other does not, the non-consent takes precedence.

·         If the parent/s consent and the student does not, the students non-consent takes precedence.

·         If the parent/s do not consent and the student does consent, the parents non-consent takes precedence.

If a consent is not given the school “must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.” as detailed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012,Chapter 2 Section 26 (7).

Parents
Parent/s must be informed by the school that they are using a biometric system and the school must gain written consent from the parent/s to take and process their child’s biometric data.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.
Schools do not always make it clear when asking for consent that an alternative to the biometric system is available and that non-consent ultimately lies with the student.

Students
Regardless of consent given by your parent/s you alone determine whether a school takes and processes your biometric data.   If you choose not to use a biometric system the school must provide an alternative and must not withhold any services from you that is available through their biometric system.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Biometric consent for students in Scotland

Under the Protection of Freedom Act 2012 if schools want to use and process a child's biometric data
they must ask for consent from the pupils and parents.  Schools must also offer an alternative option to access systems if consent is not given to process a student's biometrics - such as a pin number or swipe card.

Schools use a student's biometrics to access facilities such as canteen, library, registration, etc, and the biometric of choice seems to favour the fingerprint.

The Protection of Freedom Act 2012, Chapter 2, details how schools must seek consent to hold and process student's biometric data.  However, this consent only applies to children in England and Wales and with Scottish authorities planning to roll out more biometric technology in schools to extend consent for Scottish students, around the use of their biometric data, is absolutely reasonable. 

In order to move towards consent for children in Scotland (and Northern Ireland) Freedom of Information requests have been sent to every local authority in Scotland to determine how prevalent the technology is in schools, whether consent is sought, type of biometrics used and for what purpose.  As it is school holidays, and given that the beginning of term is busy, we expect to this this information back by end October 2018 and then work to get this issue of consent raised in the Scottish Parliament.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Updates coming... new developments

Since I started this blog over 10 years ago the state of surveillance, monitoring and application of biometric technology used in schools on our children, the next generation, has increased beyond imagination.  Okay, there may be arguments that his 'improves' their education, enables better educational analysis, reduce admin time/costs, etc... but personally, I've not seen a dramatic increase in the next generations intellectual ability or schools being more affluent because of technology.  Certainly here in the UK we currently have a national funding crisis in education. 

Credit: https://www.pinterest.co.uk
/pin/68539225552401806/
It is a different education that is needed for today's kids.  Access to information is greater to an individual than ever before.  Knowing and retaining information in this age maybe is not a necessity as much as it was.  Moreover how to apply that knowledge in this ever changing society perhaps is a skill children should learn.  Discernment, where one's digital footprint is left and the data left again one's digital identity should also be considered.  How, who and what may be assumed by a children's online activities on the Internet - and within a school network - is a burgeoning area that needs urgent consideration, especially for those it could potentially affect in decades to come. 

With governments, private education tech companies and private companies running schools having access to individual educational data from the age of 2 years old (in the UK) to 19 and beyond gives an enormous potential for profiling.  I could write about this for an age, as these are all points that have been raised with the proliferation of technology in education for the past decade plus.

What to do?  I have been absent somewhat from blogging here as the transfer of biometric technology tested used on children in the UK has now widened into the rest of society.  My concern is when the state uses biometric technology without consent, much as schools did from 2001 - 2013 in the UK.  I set up a sister blog a couple of years ago to keep the two developments of biometric technology, schools / wider society, separate - see my State of Surveillance website.

However, there is now an issue of facial recognition creeping into US and Chinese schools for a variety of reasons.  Here in England and Wales (not Scotland or Northern Ireland) facial recognition is not viably an option for schools with under 18 year olds, as per the consent required under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.   The argument for the use of biometrics in schools - whether  fingerprint or facial recognition - is basically unproven, as other, less invasive, less 'valuable', means of identification will suffice.   This is an issue I intend to raise again here.

So, hopefully, (in a rather large nutshell) I've explained my absence and fully intend at least once a week to start again back here.   T'will be nice to get back to it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Updated Advice for schools on using pupil's Biometrics

Last Month the Department for Education issued an updated advice for schools taking and processing students biometric data.

This useful advice is also a 'must' read for students and parents so they are fully aware of their rights of access to services should they choose NOT to participate in a biometric system.

A recent survey, carried out by DefendDigitalMe, revealed that:
"Over a third (38%) [of parents] of those who said their child’s school uses biometric technology said they were not offered a choice of whether to use this system or not and 50% have not been informed how long the fingerprints or other biometric data are retained for, or when they will be destroyed — despite the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 requiring parental consent, and an alternative to be on offer, showing that practical guidance is needed to help schools understand how to implement the legislation."
This shows that there is still clearly a lack of understanding by schools of their legislative obligations to parents and students with regards to biometric data storage, processing and their consent.

Please do have a read of the above advice, any of the information here and make an informed choice about your/your children's biometric data.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Schools obligations to students biometric data

It's that time of year again, when parents with children going up to high schools are encountering biometric systems in their children's new schools and are unsure of their rights to consent and what responsibilities the school has to ensure school services are not withheld from students who do not participate in their biometric system.  Hopefully this will clarify schools, parents and children's position.  A PDF version can be found here.

A school’s responsibility
A school cannot take and process a student’s, under 18 years old, biometric data without the consent of the parent/s or the student.  Consent must be given in writing from the parent/s.  Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

CONSENT
·         If one parent consents and the other does not, the non-consent takes precedence. 

·         If the parent/s consent and the student does not, the students non-consent takes precedence. 

·         If the parent/s do not consent and the student does consent, the parents non-consent takes precedence.

If a consent is not given the school “must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.” as detailed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012,Chapter 2 Section 26 (7).

Parents
Parent/s must be informed by the school that they are using a biometric system and the school must gain written consent from the parent/s to take and process their child’s biometric data.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.
Schools do not always make it clear when asking for consent that an alternative to the biometric system is available and that non-consent ultimately lies with the student.

Students
Regardless of consent given by your parent/s you alone determine whether a school takes and processes your biometric data.   If you choose not to use a biometric system the school must provide an alternative and must not withhold any services from you that is available through their biometric system.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Schools asking for consent to process children's biometrics

I am getting a lot of emails from concerned parents of children leaving primary school to go to secondary school with the way that the secondary schools are asking for consent to use their child's biometrics - fingerprint, fingertip data - and not offering an alternative method to access the catering, library, registration, etc, system.  In this parents are feeling that their request for consent is coerced.

Schools MUST offer an alternative to biometricsThe Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Chapter 2, Section 27 (7) states that: 

The relevant authority must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.

Unfortunately some parents have been made to feel from schools that they are being unreasonable in not giving consent and that they are they only one objecting to biometric consent.  You are not a 'problem parent'.  You and your child have a right to not give the school biometric data - data that is absolutely unique, personal, highly precious and that needs to be secure for the child's life time.

Parents feeling isolated by a school is a story I have heard over the past 10 years so many times from so many parents - you are not alone at all.  I myself last year, when my child entered sixth form, was told by the Principal that I was the only parent objecting to them using my child's biometrics - I was not.

Quite often the supplier of the biometric system to the school will also offer alternative means of accessing the system they provide.  Examples are swipe card, PIN number and taking the names of the children at the point of sale at the till, so it shouldn't be an inconvenience for the school to offer alternative means of identification.

The new EU General Data Protection Regulations is law for every member state of the EU, including us.  It came into law 27th April 2016.  Schools are subject to this.

Point 32 states:
Consent should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject's agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her, such as by a written statement, including by electronic means, or an oral statement.

Point 42 states:
Consent should not be regarded as freely given if the data subject has no genuine or free choice or is unable to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment.

If anyone has any concerns or questions please don't hesitate to get in touch, I'm really happy to help if I can.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Consider carefully when consenting to children's biometrics in schools

'Turning fingers into keys'
Credit: kaprik/shutterstock.com
There is a great article written by Brian Patton, University of Oxford, entitled "The trouble with taking biometric technology into schools", that appeared in The Conversation earlier this month, which every parent and student should read before considering using their biometrics in schools.

Other than copy most of the article into this post I would urge a read of the article which succinctly discusses security, effectiveness, implications of a data breach and consent.  

Schools and biometric companies supplying schools are keen to reassure parents and students that it is not a (pictorial) fingerprint that is being stored but simply a number string -  a number string completely unique and specific to your child's 'bio' body 'metric' measure.

Patton makes the valid point that:


"For other biometric data it's important to remember that what is being matched within the computer is not, say, one fingerprint against another. It is a set of data drawn from the features of the scanned body part – a numerical abstraction. Steal this key and you have effectively stolen that part of the person."

He also goes on to say that,

"...a  data breach will mean these type of scans will be untrustworthy for the pupils – for the rest of their lives.
And therein lies another issue: with the potential for life-long consequences, are pupils, some below the age of 16, competent to opt in to such a scheme? And what of those who opt out? It's one thing to ask adults to weigh up the balance between convenience and risk, but there are two likely issues that would make this harder in schools. There is an inbalance of power between those wanting to implement the technology and those subject to it.  This raises serious concerns about informed consent – perhaps one of the reasons why in 2012 using biometrics was banned in English state schoolswithout parents' consent."


It is unclear if there have been any data breaches of biometric databases in schools as the UK Information Commissioner's Office (responsible for the UK Data Protection Act), in response to a Freedom of Information request regarding compromised biometric databases specifically in education, are "unable to conduct an electronic search of our system using the term ‘biometric" and so could not supply information on if there has been any data breaches of children's biometric data in schools.

There are potentially long term, unknown consequences to this biometric technology used on the youngest generation in society - we are experimenting with it on our children in schools for daily activities that can be easily undertaken, quite adequately, without the use of biometrics.

I guess an individual will only know when their biometric data has been compromised when in the future they hit a problem regarding their biometrics.  How will they know when it was compromised, by whom and where their very personal digital identity has gone? 

In the words of Brian Drury, IT Security Consultant:

"Once a child has touched a [biometric] scanner they will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives."