Friday, July 12, 2013

UK schools act as agents for private corporation's gathering of children s biometric data

St Ambrose Barlow RC High School 
UK, Manchester - St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic High School after being contacted by a concerned parent who had asked about their student biometric system for cashless catering, via a Freedom of Information Request, stated that they do not own the biometric system nor does the school takes responsibility for the biometric database. The system is owned by a Facility Management provider.  

However it seems the school's capacity in acting as an 'agent' for the private Facility Management provider was not made clear to parents when asking for written consent to process their child's biometrics.

"...this school holds no biometric data of the pupils; the system was bought by and is managed by the BSF [Building Schools for the Future] PPP  [Public Private Partnership] Facility Management Company.

We neither own the system nor have access to it. 

We are under no obligation to provide information relating to conversations, nor on the biometric system itself, which has been neither gifted to us nor is our property or personal responsibility. We have acted as an agent for the FM provider in obtaining parental/guardian permission"

So consequently no information about the biometric system is given to the enquirer of the original Freedom of Information request that spawned the above response.  St Ambrose Barlow Roman Catholic High School distance themselves from the children's biometrics fingerprint system (apart from their role gathering parent's consent on behalf of a Facility Management company).

If true, as I suspect it is, this is a new, very concerning step into how consent is gained from parents and students to participate in biometric systems, who has access to to our children's extremely personal data and the honesty shown by schools and corporations in this matter.   

Privacy campaigners often get thrown the old 'If you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear' adage ...lets see how the boot fits on the the other foot here with this latest Freedom of Information request:  Biometric system in St Ambrose Barlow RC High School

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Infrared palm scanning Irish students for registration

A school in Ireland, Coláiste an Chraoibhin in Fermoy, is considering infrared palm scanning for their pupils in order to register them at school.  How widespread is this infrared palm scanning in Irish schools or schools in the UK?

Back in 2006, Amey & Fujitsu introduced infrared palm scanning to a Scottish primary school, Todholm Primary school.  However, infrared palm scanning technology never spread here in the UK and emerged in schools in the USA around 2011.  After extensive Googling (yes I know I shouldn't use it) I can see no companies here in the UK or Ireland selling infrared palm scanning technology for registration or otherwise.

However the various reporting in the press of Coláiste an Chraoibhin School considering infrared palm scans is ambiguous.  One report states that:
"Almost 100 schools around the country, including 12 in Cork, are already using swipe card technology to record pupil attendance.  However only six schools nationwide are using biometric scanning technology."
So only 6 schools use biometric scanning technolog... or do they? - this from the Head Teacher, Mr Healy:
"To be honest, I don't know what all the fuss is about. This is a system that is already widely used across the country. In fact one supplier I spoke to said he is working with more than 100 schools"

So who is supplying biometric palm scanners to 6 or is it 100 schools in Ireland?  Clearly (or unclearly in this case) a company or companies that decide to have little or no web presence about the fact they offer infrared palm scanning solutions for schools - strange? 

Will schools in the UK be offered infrared palm scanning technology too? And will infrared palm scanning be an easier sell  to schools and parents, now that parents and child consent is required in the UK, as a 'softer' biometric technology rather than harvesting a child's biometric fingerprint?

Gathering biometrics from the population whether it be fingerprint or palm vein scanning is still reaping incredibly personal data about a person.   With less data invasive methods around, using biometric technology in schools is completely unnecessary.  If the argument being used (which this is in this case) is that swipe cards have a cost to replace, then use a pin system or password system instead.  It could be argued that a swipe card's ability to be lost actually teaches a child to look after the card/identity and that there are consequences if carelessly loosing it.  

Mr Healy states that "there will be no data protection issues involved" and "says he's been told they [infrared palm scans] don't contravene data protection laws".  Mr Healy may well be right and that data gathering such personal information does indeed have the potential to be fine - but it also has the potential not to be fine if it falls in the wrong hands or abused.  

After recent news about Prism, our society does not have a great track record of honesty regarding data collection, keeping data safe and secure or using it for good.   Personally, I would refuse to use.