Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Consent and Security

Futurelab published a well written article (Now archived here) in December last year, in their bi-annual magazine 'Vision', about surveillance in schools concentrating mainly on biometric systems. It clearly defines the two issues that concern parents and security experts:

First, the taking and storage of the biometric data itself. Second, the lack of consultation beforehand. The second of these issues is as contentious as the first, even though the DfES said in September 2006 that, in its view, schools do not need to ask permission.

The fingerprint module in Junior Librarian, for example, is bought in from a third-party company that supplies its technology to a range of other vendors for many other uses. Isn't it possible that today's database of children's fingerprints, sometime in the future, could unlock some completely different application and set of data?

This from Terence Boult on Bruce Schneier's blog from 2005.

"This obscure phrasing ["The data cannot be used to reconstruct the fingerprint"] is common among biometric vendors... to make people feel its more private and/or safer. Minutiae-based templates can be easily reused by the government, and there is an official interchange standard (M1) to help ensure systems can share and inter-operate... to ensure one company's templates work well in other peoples' matching."

One would presume that this side of biometric technology has matured even since then.

On issues of security, with no awareness at any level of how many regular schools computers currently store children's biometric data - how then do we know when their data gets stolen or compromised? For certain when schools get broken into it's not pens and paper that get stolen.

The issue of children's consent remains a contentious issue, especially when they are in a compliant environment. Systems in schools should be on an "opt in" basis, this would force a school to explain the technology thoroughly to parents and also give both parents and pupils time for research themselves. Without informed consent we stand a very real risk of teaching the next generation to be casual with their personal biometric data.

Futurelab, who received major start-up funding from the Department for Education and Skills, DfES, has this last comment on the subject:

Maybe the time has come for a debate on this issue so that we can all fully understand both the positive and negative aspects of using surveillance technology in schools - and then, at least, we can all make an informed choice as to whether or not to sign up.

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