Wednesday, January 24, 2007

BECTA - "care needs to be taken to consider the concerns of parents in this area"

BECTA, the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency's newsletter - Tech News September 2006 - has a section starting on page 11 of their newsletter discussing biometric technology in schools.

BECTA, according to the governments responses to Tom Watson Labour MP and Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat MP, are consulting with the Information Commissioners Office in drawing up guidelines using biomeric systems in schools for the DfES.

This is what BECTA have to say about biometrics used in schools:

"Authentication systems beyond the common username/password approach are becoming more popular, but as fast as devices and solutions come on the market there are fresh concerns raised about the operations of schemes including issues of privacy and anonymity."

Privacy and anonymity are areas that concern children's rights and privacy groups as well. Child privacy and anonymity needs to be exhausively discussed with such groups that can offer specialist advice in this area before any guidelines are drafted. Hopefully BECTA will pursue their concerns in the right way.

"Some commentators have suggested that traditional registration is not simply about marking attendance; and that teachers carrying out this task can learn more about a pupil during this time than simply if they are present or not."

"A minority of schools are already investing in these systems and it is likely more will try and automate mundane tasks to free up teacher time and improve administration. However, care needs to be taken to consider the concerns of parents in this area."

A school should respect consideration of any concerns that parents may have. It is the right (and lawful) way to proceed. The only way to do this is to alert parents to the practice that schools are using their child's biometric data and gain their informed written consent.

BECTA's concerns are ones that are shared by parents, privacy/rights watchdogs, MP's and others. These concerns surely now must lead to some serious debate time to air these issues and get some regulation into a market that is currently uncontrolled.

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