Wednesday, May 11, 2022

State of Biometrics 2022 - a review of policy and practice in UK education

I co-authored a report with Jen Persson from DefendDigitalMe, 'The State of Biometrics 2022 - a review of policy and practice in UK education', which was published last week.  There is no collection, monitoring, record of biometric technology in schools held by any UK government department, regulator or commissioner so information in the report was obtained by Freedom of Information requests and research collated over the number of years I've been doing this blog.

There is definitely further research and questions to be answers and issues to be resolved following the publication.  

Biometric technology has crept from school services, canteen, library, etc, into the classroom - where 'sensors' (cameras) now scrape data from children into a group view for teachers and management to gauge real time interest in lessons, engagement, attentiveness and emotion.  This behavioural data capture is classed as biometric data under the Protection of Freedoms Act, Chapter 2 (28)(2).

From PRNewswire:

"ViewSonic Corp., a leading global provider of visual solutions, has partnered with the Smestow Academy in Wolverhampton, England, as the first school in the UK to deploy the AI-powered myViewBoard Sens analysis tool in the classroom. Through the real-time insights generated by the intelligent sensor, the school can ensure the classroom follows the wellness compliance, increase students' engagement, and facilitate a safe and active learning environment for the best possible learning outcome."


The Report in summary

The Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 and weak enforcement of data protection law are failing to protect millions of children from the normalisation of routine use of biometric data for everyday canteen and library transactions, and increasingly intrusive bodily surveillance in the classroom. 

Pupils in the UK are effectively guinea pigs in the use of emerging technology for companies from around the world, including facial recognition technology that has already been banned from schools in other countries.

Some companies claim that their products can measure mood and attentiveness, or use artificial intelligence to manage behaviour-based classroom planning. Some companies even claim to be able to detect autism without any child development expertise.

How this normalisation and these emerging products may affect the full and free development of the child are yet to be seen.

The fast-growing uses of intrusive technology involving bodily data in educational settings worry child rights advocates and law makers alike. 

Lord Paul Scriven said, “As parents you should be very worried and angry that private companies are seeking to make a profit from your child’s face, fingers, eyes and other personal characteristics while trying to pretend that it is all to aid their educational attainment. Where do we draw the line?”

  • Data from FOI requests to schools (all UK) Our findings from enquiries to 550 schools with over a quarter of a million pupils in total, suggests that around three quarters of secondary schools are using fingerprint technology or other biometrics, and where used, uptake is routinely 85%, or more where use is restricted to only certain year groups.
  • Despite the law requiring consent some schools in England are discriminating against children in receipt of Free School Meals (FSM) by obliging them to use the fingerprint systems, and others make it obligatory for all pupils. (We are yet to quantify these issues and plan to continue further research.)
  • Emerging technologies, school trials and scope creep including under COVID. Schools started using facial recognition more widely in 2020. At least one school got new facial recognition technology free, “as part of a trial”. Some schools combined entry access readers with thermal and facial detection. Some are trialling “experimental” products including attentiveness and mood detection that are unevidenced in their intended outcomes or in any unintentional effects on children’s behavioural and cognitive development in UK classrooms. Voice is rarely considered under school biometrics policies whereas fingerprint technology is now routine.
  • Lack of regulatory enforcement. Six months after North Ayrshire schools in Scotland put their facial recognition rollout on pause, there has been no visible ICO regulatory enforcement action. We include a latest position statement in the report.
  • Large multinational companies have bought out the originally small school biometrics suppliers and many significant UK school providers are owned in the US, Canada and Israel.
  • Parents’ survey findings (2018) Survation polled 1,004 parents with children in state schools on behalf of defenddigitalme about their experience of technology in schools. Over a third of parents (38%) whose children were using biometrics in school, said they had not been offered any choice despite the law that requires parental consent, the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, and over 50% of parents had not been informed how long their child’s  fingerprints or other biometric data is retained or when the data would be destroyed.

Professor Fraser Sampson, Commissioner for the Retention and Use of Biometric Material and Surveillance Camera Commissioner and author of the report foreword, suggests there is inadequate oversight of school procurement among wide ranging comments.  “Some – including, surprisingly, the Department for Education – appear to have taken the view that bare compliance with Chapter 2 of the Act is all that is required to ensure the lawful, ethical and accountable use of biometric surveillance in schools.” He asks five key questions of practice in schools: Who's benefiting? Who's watching? Whose company are you keeping? Where's the push? And, Why the rush?

There are no UK national requirements for any quality or health and safety standards of biometric or AI technology when used by state schools, and no oversight or record of what is used where.

Current legislation is ineffective in protecting children’s and students’ rights in educational settings from age 2-25 and change is needed now. defend digital me is calling for a ban on biometric systems in educational settings.

Authors: Pippa King and Jen Persson

Artwork: Hannah Mallory

Monday, January 10, 2022

Update on facial recognition in UK schools

Since 2000 biometrics deployed in UK schools are/have been - fingerprinting, facial recognition, iris scanning and infrared palm scanning.

Department of Education and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO)

  • Do not list any schools using facial recognition (or any other type of biometric, i.e. fingerprint)
  • Have not had any communication with companies that supply facial recognition in schools
  • Have not issued any advice to educational establishments with reference to the use of facial recognition
  • Have not logged any instances of violations of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Chapter 2 - consent to use of a child’s biometric data
  • Have not ever seen biometric hardware or software that are being used in schools
Evidence for this has come from Freedom of Information requests.

Biometrics Commissioners (and Surveillance Camera Commissioner)

  • Have no jurisdiction with regards to children's biometrics, use and processing in education 

Children’s Commissioners UK

  • Have no jurisdiction with regards to children biometrics, use and processing in education 

Legislation - Protection of Freedoms Act Chapter 2, Data Protection 2018 and GDPR

  • Why does the ICO not enforce or rule as other EU countries (FranceSweden, Bulgaria and Poland) have done on the use of biometrics in schools?

What is the point of having legislation, if legislation is not being used or at least monitored for compliance?

Why has the use of children's biometrics slipped through the net of every single government department, various commissioners and an information regulator, ICO, which is meant to scrutinise the use of data - especially when this involves children’s data, with a use of technology that adults do not routinely use?

For over two decades now - biometrics in schools - there should be no excuses of this neglect of responsibility.  An immediate duty in this needs to be allocated to at least one of the above positions and organisations - the fact this has never been done is disgraceful.  

The ICO has yet to rule on the use of facial recognition by North Ayrshire Council, I await with interest its decision (if it is capable of making one).

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

North Ayrshire Council's FOI responses...

I asked a Freedom of Information request (FOIR) to North Ayrshire Council (NAC) and got a response here.  It warrants further investigation on a few issues.  Consent.  Data Protection Impact Assessment.  Cost and claims NAC make of the system to speed up lunch lines and being 'Covid safe'.

Consent.  I have touched on this before but I am curious as to who is determining the age of the ability of the child to consent to using their facial biometrics to pay for food.  In England and Wales where a school wants to take and process a school's biometric, for any child under 18, parental consent is required by legislation

In NAC it seems there was a debate on consent... 12 or 14?  Consideration, though I can't see how this marries up, was that 12 year olds can withhold data on what they eat to their parents therefore they can consent to having their biometrics used.  Am I thick, because I'm not connecting this reasoning up??

But somehow, it appears from advice from the supplier, that in other schools they have opted for 14 - why? ...we don't know - but it's quicker and easier to facial scan kids who can give consent themselves than wait for parents to consent apparently.  See below communications sent to me via FOIR response:

I was interviewed this morning on BBC Radio Scotland about consent, NAC are saying that they have a 97% uptake.  I bet they do, children when asked for consent is simply invalid due to it not being able to be freely given due to the power of imbalance between the school and family, not wanting to be different and peer pressure.  

And how do parents and children differentiate between the finer nuances of facial recognition essentially taken from a still photograph (FR), live facial recognition (LFR) taken from live video feeds and retrospective facial recognition (RFR)  from non live video records?  Parliament can barely eek this out privacy wise so how on earth can a child or parent without some hours research on the topic?

If parents and children could read the Data Protection Impact Assessment (DPIA) done on the system, all 16 pages of it with redactions about data sharing, they might not be so keen to use facial recognition.

But BBC Radio Scotland said, the 'kids and parents like it'.  Erm, so what?  Biometric technology used by children has been discussed in UK Parliament and at EU level and its deemed in legislations, DPA 2018 and GDPR, to be unlawful.  There are lots of things we 'like' and some are legislated against for good reason where minors are involved.

Although only EU regulators have responded to schools using facial recognition and fingerprints to ban it and fine the schools using biometrics in France, Sweden and Poland.  

Why isn't our regulator, the Information Commissioners Office doing this?  A good question that I hope will be resolved soon enough.

Data Protection Impact Assessment - as I mentioned earlier, parts on data sharing are redacted.  In order for full transparency I believe with such a new technology, potentially being unlawfully used, we should see exactly how it is being used.

Cost and claims - again redacted.  This is our tax payers money, we should have a right to know under Freedom of information.

Justification of using FR to 'speed' up lunch lines and covid safe - I think I'd like to see a cost benefit analysis on this 'speed' claim in comparison to the older system and see some statistics on this.  How many seconds are the schools going to save and what will they do with the new found time in the school day?

Same with the covid safe claim, it maybe is who knows?  (I did think because of kids wearing masks that this was an aerosol transmission...?)

A new FOIR with further questions is here.

Friday, October 01, 2021

What is the current situation with facial recognition in UK schools?

This situation with facial recognition technology use in UK schools is unknown, as is the case for the amount of schools using pupils biometric fingerprints.  

Using the Freedom of Information Act and catching the media on this as it happens seems to be the only way  to see how this technology is being rolled out, as schools are under no obligation to inform the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), who oversees the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), that they are taking and processing children's biometric data.

As of this week it appears that North Ayrshire Council, Scotland, are in the process of implementing facial recognition in to its 9 high schools and West Lothian Council, also in Scotland, are looking at introducing facial recognition technology in its 11 high schools - a total of approximately 20,000 students.

In England there are:

Kingsmeadow Community Comprehensive School,  Gateshead

Canon Slade CofE School, Bolton

Murray Park Community School, Derby  - Update 20/10/21:  I have been contacted by Realsmart who have stated, "Realsmart do not provide any systems that work with biometrics". I welcome more clarification on this and will post accordingly.

Langley Park School for Girls, Beckenham

...another 5,000 students and I suspect there are quite a few more schools too.

Consent and Legalities

England and Wales - explicit consent from parents must be sought for a school to take and process a child's biometric, which was, up to now, mainly in the form of a fingerprint template, this now however extends to photographs used for a facial recognition system.  This is law and the legislation covering a schools obligation to gain consent is in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 (PoFA).

Both parents need to consent and so does the child.  Any child or parent not consenting overrules the consent of a parent that does consent.  An alternative to the biometric system must also be provided and this alternative option should be made aware to the parent/s child - see page 10 of the governments 'Protection of biometric information of children in schools and colleges' advice to schools.

Scotland and Northern Ireland - here the PoFA 2012 does not apply.  Scottish schools have tended to ask for consent in line with the PoFA but recently seem to have taken it upon themselves, from exactly whose advice is unknown at this time, to presume that S1-S3 pupils need parental consent and S4-S6 pupils can consent themselves.  See North Ayrshire's consent forms S1-S3 and S4-S6.  

S4 students are 14/15 years old, under PoFA no student under the age of 18 can consent to their biometrics being processed by schools.

However, this consent process becomes redundant as indications from Europe show that facial recognition in schools is in direct contravention of the EU legislation GDPR.  Rulings against using facial recognition in schools has been acknowledged by our UK ICO in their June 2021 report, page 22, 'The use of live facial recognition technology in public places':

The report went on to state that: "The research found support for the government imposing restrictions on the use of FRT [facial recognition technology] by the police (55%) and in schools (68%). The Ada Lovelace Institute recommends a voluntary pause on the sale of FRT to enable public engagement and consultation to take place." which case why are UK schools spending tax payers money on this legally questionable technology?

The legalities of facial recognition in UK schools is unknown.  We are still subject to the EU GDPR and under that facial recognition use in schools has been in contravention of the strict use of biometrics with minors that the EU Act cites.  

Our ICO appears unable to answer what communications they have had with educational establishments or companies supplying facial recognition to schools.  A recent of Freedom of Information on this was refused on 30th September 2021, citing Section 12, exceeding costs and time - I am hopeful there may be a disclosure of some information though - see here.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Facial recognition arrives in UK schools

Facial recognition is emerging in UK schools for canteen payments.  The promise of the technology is "to keep pupils safe from allergies and keep the school Covid secure" and to speed up lunch lines, reducing times from however many seconds it was before, to only 5 seconds per pupil 'serve time' with facial recognition technology.  This new biometric technology is, according to the Business Manager at Kingsmeadow School in Gateshead:

 "...just fast!  Better than fingerprints"

The fortuitous supplier of the emerging facial recognition technology is CRB Cunninghams.

Gosh, even faster than fingerprints!  Wasn't that one of the main reasons to introduce biometric technology two plus decades ago?  Because pupils can't forget a thumb but can forget a 4 digit pin or swipe card, hence a thumb on a scanner is faster, right?  Epic fail fingerprint technology - you're obviously just not fast enough.  (Erm... if students can forget a 4 digit PIN what hope have they of passing any exams if their memory is that bad!   Anyway...)

Then is there is the 'Covid secure' reason.  No need to touch anything at the point of sale.  But then a swipe card ticks those boxes too.  The facial recognition technology even works with a mask/face covering... but then so does a PIN or a swipe card.  Plus the hundreds of students passing through a lunch line will have walked through school corridors, placing their hands on the corridor swing doors to get to the dining hall, etc, so I'm not sure the 'Covid secure' reason stacks up.

Then there's the old bullying issue.  According to Ed Tech providers of cashless catering systems, cash in schools = bullying issues.  Well, if that happens the school must sort it out.  Having cashless catering systems in schools won't solve any bullying issues.  As one Reddit user asks 'how can the computer tell if the person isn't being held there by a bully'?  Good question.


According to this article, describing CRB Cunninghams recent introduction of facial recognition to school lunch lines, "CRB Cunninghams have used biometric data since 2008 on the cashless catering system".  Erm not quite so.  Cunninghams have been supplying fingerprint biometric systems to schools in Angus, Scotland, since 1999 according to a Freedom of Information request (FOIR) answer from Angus Council.  As far as is known, this the first use of biometric technology with children in schools in the UK, Europe, USA, Canada, and the western world.

Angus Council FOIR response, September 2018:

Cunninghams introduced biometric technology in schools 22 years ago, before the technology was being used anywhere else regularly in society.  Now it's seems they are at the forefront today pioneering facial recognition technology. 

Lucky Cunninghams, first for both biometric fingerprint and now commercially viable biometric facial recognition technology for kids in schools.  Though by no means the only supplier now.  

Innovate, supplying Langley Park School for Girls in Bromley.   

Canon Slade School Parent Facial Recognition Pdf in Bolton using Cunninghams, and Murray Park Community School Parent Facial Recognition Pdf in Derby using Realsmart  - Update 20/10/21:  I have been contacted by Realsmart who have stated, "Realsmart do not provide any systems that work with biometrics". I welcome more clarification on this and will post accordingly 

I stated commercially viable earlier, as facial recognition was trialled in 2010 in ten UK schools by Aurora, for registration purposes, in Northamptonshire, Cambridgeshire and Hertfordshire.  It was quickly ditched as it just wasn't fit for purpose.  Clearly the technology has matured and is now deemed fit for use on children in schools.

Legalities and consent

Well, this is where it gets interesting and complex and warrants another post really but for a quick view see here.  I'll expand on this more in another post.

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

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."

" 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.

·         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).

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.

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.