Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reverse-engineering digital fingerprints

One important point, that has been reiterated time and time again by biometric vendors, Jim Knight and the ICO, is that the biometric systems in schools cannot reverse-engineer a fingerprint.

This does not seem to be the case according to Kim Cameron's recent weblog, Architect of Identity and Access in the Connected Systems Division at Microsoft, entitled "Paper argues biometric templates can be reversed". It shows that reverse-engineering a digital fingerprint may just be possible. He cites this paper "Can images be generated from biometric templates" by Andy Adler, University of Ottawa, 2003.

Also see these Research discussions at West Virginia University from 2005 "We show that minutiae information can reveal substantial details such as the orientation field and the class of the associated fingerprint that can potentially be used to reconstruct the original fingerprint image."

Both of these papers are not too recent and since then one would presume that the technologies in this field have advanced.

However, even thought the possible reconstruction of a fingerprint seems relevant to the argument of biometric technology in schools, ownership and possible 'loss' of ones digital fingerprint is still very relevant... who has access to it, the systems it is on, how it can be used (or abused). These are the points that should be seriously considered by children (and parents) as they unwittingly give up their biometric data for systems in schools which are non essential for purchasing food or accessing library books.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

UK non statutory guidelines issued....

Non statutory (non legally binding) guidelines were issued yesterday by the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency, BECTA, regarding biometrics in schools, nicely coinciding with the House of Commons Adjournment debate on the subject.

'Guidence on the use of Biometric systems in schools' from BECTA and 'The use of biometrics in schools' came from the Information Commissioner's office, ICO, yesterday.

Balanced points of view are required to make informed judgements.

From the BECTA advice: 6 ...Schools should also reassure parents and pupils that they will not pass the data on to any third parties.

But are parents and pupils aware that the UK Police can access school biometric databases without parental permission if a crime can be solved? See Q50 and Q51 and subsequent answers from David Smith, the Deputy Information Commissioner, at the House of Common Home Affairs Committee "A SURVEILLANCE SOCIETY?" (May 2007).

Police "fingerprint" databases are not just ink fingerprints on sheets of paper with people peering at them with magnifying glasses when a crime needs to be solved - Police now use algorithmic fingerprint databases (Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems - AFIS) as detailed in the above mentioned ICO document third paragraph, just like the ones used in schools. These algorithms, via M1, can be interchangeable between differing systems.

Quote from the front page of the ICO advice: "Fingerprints are not essential to the applications but unlike swipe cards they cannot be lost"

This from a primary school using thumb scans (top right, second column): "The only issues we’ve had have been caused by us changing our hardware and a burglary when our main computer was stolen. [The biometric provider] helped us to resolve them all," (Perhaps biometric data was 'lost' here?)

Non legal advice - nothing resolved.

House of Commons Adjournment Debate

There was a House of Commons Adjournment debate Monday 23rd July with Greg Mulholland, Lib Dem Shadow Education Spokesperson, leading the debate and Jim Knight, Labour Minister from the Department of children, schools and families, answering.

At long last debate time in parliament has been given over to the taking of children's biometric data without parental consent.

The debate can been seen here, it is the last item to be debated and can be found at 06.35.25 on the slider.

Luckily for Jim Knight, in order to answer Greg Mulhollands points and not to loose face, he had to have some advice from the ICO and BECTA - well and what do you know... after nearly a year of waiting for advice, the long awaited guidance from BECTA and the ICO just happened to be issued today.

Phew that was lucky for Jim Knight - what were the odds against that then?!!

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Illinios Act, USA, HB 1559

Act HB 1559 in Illinios, USA, regarding biometrics in schools should take effect 1st August 2007.
(If the above link is broken for HB1559 scroll down on the right column to 'Legal/Law' on this blog for the link)

Monday, July 09, 2007

Irish workers refuse to use biometric system

Workers at The Abbey Theatre in Dublin have refused to give up their personal biometric data for a biometric system that "concerns the health and safety of the Abbey’s 100 full-time staff working in the buildings at various times across the course of the morning, day and night."

How can giving up your personal biometric data improve your health and safety working in a theatre? The biometric system is in it's first phase with the second phase being rolled out monitoring time and attendance according to the Sunday Business Post.

If adult workers are not happy with using such systems - why is it used with children without gaining parental permission or even letting parents know?

There are obviously concerns amongst the adult population about the uses of such technology and the level of personal data we as adults wish to give up, yet as a society we are creating a "do as I say not as I do" situation with biometrics in schools and children's privacy rights.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back on the job!

Not posted for a while, the recent flooding has disrupted our city with a 5th of all homes affected, schools shut, council services not operating to the full, events cancelled then rescheduled... we had 4 inches of water come through out front room ceiling, came in through the outside brick pointing as the guttering didn't cope with the monsoon like rain, buckets and tarpaulin saved the day -
but we got off lightly in comparison to some.

So... back to work!

Schools using biometrics for lunch recently, Kirkley High School in Lowestoft, Norfolk:
“The cashless catering system gives us the ability to influence where they eat and what they eat." said Headteacher, John Clinton

Also Bristol City academy is to scan students' fingerprints to allow them to get their lunch. The £20,000 (!) scheme will be launched at the City Academy - the first to be built in the city - from September.

One parent, Clare Stephenson stated,"I am staggered that no consultation has been made with parents about this and it is being pushed through in time for the new school term,"