Monday, November 14, 2011

Children's Biometrics in the House of Lords

The Protection of Freedoms Bill had it's second reading in the House of Lords last week and some peers spoke in a positive manner about gaining consent of parents before schools take and process children's biometrics.

Lord Henley -
"it is right that parents should be asked to make an informed decision about whether to accede to the processing of such information. It is also proper that pupils should have a say."

The Lord Bishop of Bristol -
"I back the protection of biometric information on children in schools, with parental consent being required for processing information"

Lord Kennedy of Southwark -
 "Proposals regarding the express parental consent for the use of children's fingerprints are welcome"

The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) tweeted that "Pleased to see Lord Lucas supporting ASCL's objections to restricting biometrics in schools in yday's Lord's debate."

As the ASCL rightly state there was one peer, Lord Lucas, who indeed spoke of the section on biometrics in school as a "daffy overreaction".  (daffy?)  Lord Lucas also commented that biometrics in schools...

"...have great benefits. They improve safety. They improve privacy. They greatly improve efficiency."

If biometrics in schools do have such above beneficial effects what has the ASCL or Lord Lucas to be frightened about gaining parental consent.  Surely given the above claims, parents should willingly embrace this technology and thereby give consent.  Schools gain consent for all manner of activities, it is a process they are familiar with.

I would be interested to see validation of Lord Lucas's claims.  Claims that remind me of the previous Labour Government waffle justifying using childrens biometrics in schools for mundane tasks, and of course, claims made by companies selling access, registration and security systems to schools.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Infrared palm scans out-biometric fingerprints for school lunches

What is so wrong with school fingerprint biometrics that warrants over $100,000 being spent on biometric palm scanning equipment to replace an existing fingerprint payment system?  Source Palm Harbor News, Florida

Did the fingerprint system break down, is it not secure enough or perhaps the new vogue in biometrics for kids is the infrared palm scanner?

Or maybe fingerprint biometrics are just not fast enough to propel students at the desired speed through cafeterias as "this high-tech scanning system will make the lunch line move faster" ...faster even than fingerprint biometrics?   Undoubtedly, biometric vendors will be selling differing biometric systems to school by 'miles per hour' lunch line speeds!

"The new palm-scanning program, piloted at Boca Ciega High School, cost the district $105,000. It replaces a finger scan system used in county middle and high schools since 2005.

"Pinellas County Schools are the first in the nation to use a palm scanning system"

A proud claim indeed. Of course, we have Scottish children to thank for Boca Ciega High School's first infrared claim, although competition is hot on their heels by kids in Reading Schools District, Ohio.

The AmeyFujitsu palm scanning technology was first introduced to Scottish primary schools back in 2007.  Presumably the Scottish trials went well enough to market infrared palm scanning to the US.  After all the US had around 49 million school children as opposed to an approximate meagre 9 million in the UK.  A more lucrative US market, especially when imminent legislation here in the UK may require full parental consent to be gained by schools for biometrics to be used with students.

The speed of which school lunch queues move seems to be an ever evolving, publicly expensive, obsession held by schools and biometric companies on both sides of the pond.

Here's an idea, maybe the thousands of pounds and dollars spent on such systems could be invested in childrens education instead?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Protection of Freedoms Bill: Committee Stage Report Bill

The Protection of Freedom Bill Research paper RP11/54 after discussion in the House of Commons:

"Biometric information - The provisions on the protection of biometric information in relation to children were not amended in Public Bill Committee. Several amendments were discussed but none was successful. Members probed the Government on issues relating to parental consent and safeguards on the use and retention of children’s biometric data. While supporting the principle of consulting parents, the Opposition was concerned about schools being able to manage their affairs effectively."

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Solving problems and proving claims

There is no doubt that biometrics are here to stay and I'm no Luddite about that.  The general use of biometrics in UK society has been introduced to us all via our children, that it 'if' we are even aware they are using the technology.

In my opninion this has been grossly mishandled by the biometric industry.  The perception could be that it has been introduced it by stealth, aided by laws in the UK that have enabled this situation to happen.   In EU countries where Data Protection laws are more stringent, childrens biometrics are very rarely processed in schools.

Claims about biometric technology cannot be scrutenised to any great extent as schools and the previous government's apathy on the subject has not enabled any research to be done.  Hence assertions made by industry and schools in defence of the use of biometrics in schools needs to be questioned. 

Quoting from ASCL's General Secretary Brian Lightman:

"It [biometrics] means that students eligible for free school meals can take them up without being stigmatised"   So does a pin number system or alternative touch system.  No 'expensive' cards necessarily needed.  If a school can get pupils to pass exams then it can surely get a pupil to remember a pin number.

"...and parents know their children are not buying lunch at the chip shop."   Use a pin number system or alternative touch system.

"These systems prevent fraud and, with dinner money, intimidation and theft by other pupils." 
Use a pin number system or alternative touch system.  I've heard many an argument that using biometrics reduces bullying, such a claim indeed.  Bullying exists in schools, therefore the school should deal with different bullying situations and teach children what is and what is not acceptable behavior, in all circumstances.

"Systems using cards are more expensive to install, more open to abuse and not as effective as cards are often lost, stolen or simply left at home."  Use a pin number system or alternative touch system.

However, it could be argued that there are more benefits to the pupils than the administration of a school of having a card system. I.e. to encourage pupils to look after their identity, be aware where it is, how they have used it, see possible consequences if their identity card is lost, etc, none of which biometrics can really offer in the same way at the moment.

If the introduction use of biometrics had been made in the adult market in the UK we could possibly teach our chidlren how to manage the use of our biometrics, learn to keep track of where we have left our biometrics, who can access our biometric data and the data held against it, possible interoperability of biometric databases and where biometric data might end up, etc.   We are unable to do this and I would interested to know if schools are doing this - my guess is they are not.

"The information could not be used to identify a student outside of the school, by the police or any other outside organisation."  How does he know that for sure?  As the ASCL and the biometric industry have close links maybe he got told that by them?

The reality is that there is software that enables Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) to communicate with each other so the possibility is there - see this link. Have any checks been carried out to see if his statement is correct? - no.

“Schools and colleges have invested heavily in this technology"  You bet they have Brian. Here's Staffordshire County Council spending up to £4 million pounds on it.

And lastly...

“Biometrics in schools are a problem for a small number of pressure groups, not for parents."   I'm a parent and the Leave Them Kids Alone website was set up by a concerned parent too.

In fact, as far as I know, any website dealing specifically with the civil liberties issues raised by using biometrics in schools, have been set up and run by parents. Oh, and the reason why privacy groups have brought up the matter of schools fingerprinting children without our knowledge, is mainly because we parents have contacted them.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

...and figures from Freedom of Information Requests

After looking at the secondary school biometric figures yesterday I thought it might be useful to take a look at the primary school market.

I sent a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) out last year to over 500 schools last February/March 2010, to both primary and secondary, about the use of biometrics in schools.

4% of primary schools that responded had biometric systems.
39% of high schools that responded had biometric systems.

These figures are by no means precise as the overall response to the FOIA was poor.  The reality is that there are no collection of figures nationally and with poor response rates from schools it is impossible to gain any accurate figures.

Nevertheless, working with the results we have, this is does give a loose indication of where the UK school biometric market lies.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Figures, damned figures and statistics

Following on from the previous post we are looking at the 'joint' article published on the 15th April by the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) and Planet Biometrics.

"Figures come from Biostore, the main supplier of identity management systems to secondary schools. Its client base includes over 1000 secondary schools, and it estimates that well over 1 million students use its finger based biometrics daily. Biostore’s work with schools shows that 2 users per 1000 decline to use biometrics. A 99.8% uptake of a voluntary process reflects the views of most of the public on this subject"

Both articles quote the above which is by the company Biostore who sell school biometric management systems.  They understandably have a commercial interest to state that biometrics have a high take up in schools.  It is taken from their written submission to the Freedom Bill.

  • Did parents specifically sign for consent?
  • Was it a parental opt out scenario, 'implied consent'?
  • Did the parents even know that their children were using their biometrics?
  • Is the 99.8% figure an indication of the uptake of children in a compliant school environment or an indication from fully informed parents and specifically gaining written consent?

Without knowing the answers to these questions the above statement is ambiguous and figures quoted should be questioned.  For Biostore to then assume that the 99.8% uptake in schools reflects the general populations view on this is, in my opinion, rather hopeful.

I can only speak from experience, where in my sons primary school when parents were specifically asked by letter to sign to consent to the school using biometrics, approximately 20% of parents did not consent for their childrens biometrics to be processed.  The school biometric system is now not in use.

Interestingly there are 3722 secondary schools in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland) with 3,560,384 pupils.  If Biostore's "client base includes over 1000 secondary schools, and it estimates that well over 1 million students use its finger based biometrics daily" taking the figures literally at 1000 schools that means Biostore, at the very least, has 28% of the total schools biometric market.

Both articles quote that there is evidence that "30% of secondary schools have biometric systems".

Are we then to believe that one company, Biostore, has 93% of the high school market share...? 

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Planet Biometrics and the ASCL are literally singing from the same hymn sheet

How funny!  Planet Biometrics and the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) on the 15th April both issued a news item about the use of biometrics with children in UK schools.  It is virtually identical, word for word.  What are the coincidences? 

What I want to know is, who wrote the article?   Planet Biometrics?...because they are worried about sales figures, or the ASCL? ...because they cannot be bothered to fully involve parents with this emerging technology? 

Both articles go on about how it will heavily inconvenience them both to fully involve parents with the storing and processing of their chidlrens biometrics - my heart is bleeding, really.   Although my heart is also warmed to see the biometric industry and schools working so closely, one could say almost psychically, together on this... though quite where the parents or childrens interest is in all this isn't clear from their articles.

On the plus side, it had been a bit slack on the biometrics in schools news front recently so it's nice for them to have jointly given me the opportunity to blog again.  In the next few days we'll look at exactly what the ASCL and Planet Biometrics are saying in their, seemingly, very joint statements and see whether or not it holds up.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Freedom Bill

Without wanting to nit-pick points too much and argue with written submissions to the Freedom Bill Committee, I just wish to point out some facts to balance up statements made on the use of biometrics in schools included in some submissions.

The The Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) have submitted a written submission to the Freedom Bill committee:

ASCL: "It is not clear why schools and further education colleges, respectable and responsible public bodies, are singled out in this chapter. If this data [children's biometrics] could be misused, it is surely more likely to be so by other organisations than these..."

Schools and further education are singled out because there has been, and still is, a parental backlash and worries, as posts to this blog will reveal and I am sure the Leave Them Kids Alone website would back this up too. And because childrens fingerprint biometrics do get stolen, potentially misused, as mentioned by one supplier of biometric systems to schools, details here,

ASCL: "School and college leaders are not aware of the use of this kind of technology causing any problems for any young person, nor of any but very isolated concern about its use amongst parents"

Well... no need to go any further than my previous post on this one, as teachers themselves won't use their biometrics, according to one of the biggest teaching Unions NASUWT, as they consider it "an infringement on their civil liberties". 

The Home Office's advice to the Freedom Bill Committee on children understanding the issues of schools using their biometrics: "The issues around the use of biometric data are particularly subtle and complex, and even more mature children may not be able to fully appreciate them. In other areas such as marriage and making a will children under the age of 18 need parental consent. In our view the issues around the giving of biometric data are similar in that respect."        

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Okay to fingerprint kids - but teachers won't use biometrics

Unbelievable!  Headteachers moaning about gaining parental consent for processing childrens biometrics in schools when their own teachers won't use biometrics because teachers "consider giving fingerprints as an infringement of their civil liberties" ......Oh? So that's one rule for the kids and another rule for the teachers?

Headteachers have been glittered by the biometric sales industry, spent millions of pounds of our taxpayers money on biometric systems and have been glibly fingerprinting and processing our children biometrics, quite often without parents even knowing about it.  All the Freedom Bill is doing is requiring Headteachers to take responsibility for their decisions to use this technology with children.

MP Jim Shannon in the House of Commons debate on this issue on March 1st, makes the point that it is "clear that parents must and should have a complete veto on the collection and storage of their children's genetic make-up"

And the Government's take on the financial impact is that it is "likely to have some financial impact on schools (administration and provision of alternative systems), however this is balanced against the non-financial benefit of protecting the civil liberties of children in schools and colleges"

Hear, hear - and what Headteacher would want to compromise the civil liberties of children in their care?

Friday, March 18, 2011

Warning for schools using biometrics

SecEd issuing some advance warning of the future implications to schools processing childrens biometrics:

"Paula Williamson, a legal expert from The Information Law Practice, said: “In order for the consent to be valid it must be ‘fully-informed’. A school will need to give clear and comprehensive information to the parents and arguably the pupils in order for them to make fully-informed decisions about whether to give their consent.”

Parents should also be informed who the information might be shared with, for example schools may need to allow companies that run cashless catering systems to hold data, or may be compelled to share data with the police.

Also, schools cannot obtain this permission through an opt-out letter of consent, whereby parents not agreeing must actively inform the school. Letters must be opt-in.

...schools found to be in breach of these provisions face a potential fine of up to £500,000."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It seems that across the world the UK is being held up as bad practice fingerprinting our children in schools.

This from James Heiser from

"The decision to permit the mechanisms of the national security state to intrude into the most routine aspects of the lives of children as young as four is not only degrading and absurd — it is educating impressionable youths to take for granted that the State will track their every movement, action and thought for the rest of their lives.

 Such needlessly pervasive interference in the lives of children is so scandalous that even continental European bureaucrats understand that it is wicked."

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Biometrics for school toilets are here!

Even I thought I'd never biometrics in schools used for toilet access...

 "In one secondary school in West Lothian there is a hand pad system in place for primary school pupils housed there temporarily to gain access to toilets."

This link is now archived here:

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Biometrics in Schools briefing

Over on the excellent Action on Rights for Children's (ARCH) website is a overview on the use of 'Biometrics in Schools' for the past 10 years in the UK.

A snippet from the report details the lengths biometric vendors are going to, to market biometric technologies specifically at teachers and parents:

"Some companies have engaged PR firms in order to promote their systems. Livewire PR, for example, were engaged by ‘Vericool’ to provide ‘crisis management’ for its registration system and describes its tactics as follows:

* Ensured that all news releases included implementation advice from the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCSF) – a guideline developed in association with VeriCool -
[Interesting to know the DCSF was working with the commercial biometric industry to develope guidelines, presumably separate to the guidance issued by BECTA.  Was this ethical given that evidence suggests the DCSF failed to take advice from elsewhere?]

* Used ‘superfan schools’ to highlight the positive benefits of biometrics in education.

* Secured coverage on new school installations within the local media in a drive to educate parents about biometrics and dispel any myths surrounding fingertip technology.

* Commenced executive profiling programme for VeriCool spokespeople to educate teachers and parents about the benefits of biometrics."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Chichester High School for Girls - Why?

Schools are still not communicating too well with parents, as headlines only this month portray - "Anger over school’s bid to fingerprint its pupils" at Chichester High School for Girls where they are assuming consent unless parents inform them otherwise.

Regardless of whether Chichester High School for Girls obtain consent now, they will have to try and collect 1463 (no of pupils) x 2 (parents) = 2926 signatures to continue using it during 2012.

Why would they buy such a system when swipe cards/pin numbers will be far less burdensome for them?

The logical long term implication is that the school potentially scraps biometrics and opts for an easier administrative system or the school uses it resources to collect and monitor signatures related to childrens biometrics they process - either way, what a waste of taxpayers money!

ATL union wecomes the Freedom Bill

The teaching union ATL, Association of Teachers and Lecturers, welcome the provision for biometrics in schools in the Freedom Bill.

Ken McAdam, lead member adviser at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), said:  "ATL has been alarmed at the increasing number of schools that are fingerprinting their pupils, so we are pleased that schools and colleges will have to obtain parental consent before fingerprinting pupils."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Gov does Impact Assessment on parental consent for processing childrens biometrics

Over on the Home Office's website is an Impact Assessment entitled:
"Requirement for schools to seek written parental consent before processing children's biometric data". 

It is good to see a document coming from government raising concerns and offering solutions to the controversial subject of processing children's biometrics without parents consent.

It is, in fact, it is the only document that has ever been issued by our government concerning biometrics in schools, in the 10 years the technology has been in used by children.

The previous 'advice' issued by the now defunct quango Becta was issued without any consultancy, knowledge or research into the subject of biometrics whatsoever, legal, academic or otherwise, etc.  This fact came to light in a Freedom of Information request.  

In contrast the above Home Office document outlines many aspects to be considered when using childrens biometrics without their parents consent.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Freedom Bill 2010-11

The Protection of Freedoms Bill was introduced in the House of Commons this morning and part of the BIll, Part 1 (Chapter 2) includes provisions to protect the biometric data of children in schools and colleges.

The Bill outlines the "Requirement for consent before processing biometric information" of children up to 18 years old.

A law pertaining to children using biometrics has been a long time coming and the whole Bill, including the regulation of biometric technologies and children, needs to be got right.  It will be an interesting few months ahead.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Millions being spent on biometric systems

I love Google! Type in "biometric cashless catering contracts" and on the first results page alone we have over £4.5 million pounds spent by two Local Authorities on schools biometric systems, as recently dated as December 2010.

Staffordshire Council have a 24 month contract worth £4 million of our tax payers money to dish out to the lucky winner and Warrington Borough Council are tendering for £259,500, quite paltry in light of Staffordshire's school biometric budget.

I wonder if anyone has told these Councils or schools about the forthcoming legislation that means parental consent will be compulsory in order to use a childs biometric detail... why not put an added job, the school has to do, into the equation? - that makes sense!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Freedom Bill

Thursday 13 January 2011 - Children Fingerprinting

Question - Asked by Lord Taylor of Warwick (Lords Hansard text from 13th Jan 2011)

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will end the compulsory fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.[HL5389]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Hill of Oareford): The Government intend to introduce legislation in the Freedom Bill to ensure that no children's biometric data are taken in schools or colleges without parental permission.

Hansard Link here:

Movement ahead

Well, the blog has been quiet here but there is, and has been, some movement behind the scenes - more hopefully by the end of the week...