Friday, December 08, 2006

Children's attitudes to fingerprinting in schools

Some research has been done, as part of a larger ICT project, on childrens perceptions of biometrics in schools.

The Trustguide, a collaborative research project between BT Group Chief Technology Office Research and Venturing and HP Labs, is part funded by the DTI Sciencewise programme.
The research seeks to build on the previous government sponsored Foresight project concerned with where responsibilities lie in making our future ICT-enabled world safer.

On page 77 of the Trustguide, published in October this year, it states:

In addition, in some of the groups we discovered that their school used fingerprinting to take books out of the library. Once again, there seemed to be little consideration for the potential infringement to privacy or civil rights this posed:

Yeah, it's ok because you want a book.”

“Yeah, because the police could actually get your fingerprint up if they really needed it.”

“It's acceptable because the police can find you if you did something wrong, and there's fingerprints there, you can actually find out who's fingerprint it was, because it might be on the system.”

“It's only on the school records, so, it's only in school.”

“I think it would help in at least trying to identify criminals, or something. If you had all schoolchildren's fingerprints already on record. ”

We asked children how long the school kept their fingerprint records and found that most had not even considered this question and showed little concern:

“I think they keep them for a certain amount of time, a couple of years or something, but I've no idea. I think it's wiped off.”

We considered why this apathy existed. It seemed that none of the attendees were thinking beyond the immediate scenario or what they had been told from ‘trusted’ sources (i.e. their parents, their teachers, or the community policeman). They felt that they could not challenge this viewpoint, or present any alternative views. While beyond the scope of the Trustguide project, this does pose some interesting theories regarding the ‘tipping point’ where children move from being passive learners to actively challenging authority. We saw no evidence of this within our discussions so must conclude it comes, if at all, in later teenaged years.

I think the last paragraph sums up why some parents and civil rights groups are alarmed by biometric technology in schools. Children do learn from trusted sources and don't always challenge why they are being asked to do something.

Adult opinion of the use of biometrics for surveillance are under "Use of biometric data" (page29). It states that:

There were high levels of scepticism and negativity around the use of biometrics and some biometric data was seen as far more controversial than other forms. (page31)

Our discussion around biometric data resulted in some fairly heated debate about why it is necessary to be identified with increasing levels of accuracy, by whom, and indeed, the need to be identified at all, in an increasing array of diverse situations. Much of the discussion focused on the opinion, held by many, that they can already identify themselves via a variety of means. (page32)

Many adults are wary of the use of biometrics for themselves, as the report states. So why is it acceptable for our children in schools to use the technology when we, adults, are skeptical of it?

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