Thursday, November 08, 2018

'Who knows what about me?'

The publication of the "Who knows what about me?" report today by the office of The Children's Commissioner for England highlights the huge amount of data gathered on children, including the use of biometric technology in schools.

5 salient points about biometric technology used in schools is listed in the infographic in this post.

Using one's biometric data is a more data intrusive way of accessing schools services than a PIN or swipe card.  This has been recognised by legislation and schools therefore are legally obliged to offer students an alternative means to access such services and must have consent, from both parents and students, if biometric data is to be taken and processed.

Schools in the UK have been using biometrics since 1999.   Often this was done without informing parents due to the fact that the Data Protection Act 1998 did not list biometrics as 'sensitive' personal information, hence parents permission or even knowledge that their children's biometric were being taken happened.

Many different types of biometric technology have been used in schools. The biometric most used is fingerprint.

Campaigning by parents lobbying Members of Parliament culminated, 13 years after schools started using the technology, with legislation covering consent to biometric processing in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Chapter 2.

It is prudent to minimise personal data given.  We have no idea if a child's biometrics given in the education system is compromised or shared, with other agencies or companies, the effect this may have later in their life.

Know your facts and consider keeping your child's biometric digital data from unnecessary use when an alternative means of identification will suffice.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Scottish schools Freedom of Information results so far...

This is an update on the Freedom of Information requests (FOIR) sent to all 32 Scottish local authorities in August to determine the use of biometrics in schools there.  This is with a view to extending the same rights that English and Welsh children have not to have their biometrics collected and processed in schools, with an entitlement to use an alternative way of accessing school services such a a PIN or swipe card.

Some interesting results have turned up in the two thirds of FOIRs that have been received back so far.  There seems to be two companies supplying the Scottish market with one most dominant.  The company that is most dominant also introduced the biometric fingerprint scanners in schools as early as 1999 and 2000.

This is a surprise to me as I was under the impression that schools in the UK started the introduction of fingerprint scanners for libraries in 2001when the below communications with a school biometric supplier, the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), who oversees the Data Protection Act, and Department for Education (DfE) took place.  See bottom of this post.  So it would be interesting to see if the ICO and DfE knew about the earlier use of children using their biometrics and see any correspondence on that.

With the results from the FOIR so far it seems that currently around 5% of children in Scotland use their biometrics to access school systems, although I still have a third of the authorities yet to reply.  Even so this amounts to 35,000 plus children and that is only a snapshot of current usage.  Given that some authorities have been using biometrics in schools for nearly two decades, this significantly raises the amounts of children that have had their biometrics logged at schools in Scotland to the many tens of thousands, if not over the hundred thousand mark.  The current Scottish school population is just over 687,000 children.

When all of the Scottish authorities have responded I will post more here.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Consent needed by schools to process biometric data

I do have other posts pending but as it is that time of year students start new schools I am re-posting this salient information, originally posted in May 2017.   Also see the UK Department for Education's 'Protection of biometric information of children in schools and colleges'

Schools obligations to students biometric data

It's that time of year again, when parents with children going up to high schools are encountering biometric systems in their children's new schools and are unsure of their rights to consent and what responsibilities the school has to ensure school services are not withheld from students who do not participate in their biometric system.  Hopefully this will clarify schools, parents and children's position.  A PDF version can be found here.

A school’s responsibility
A school cannot take and process a student’s, under 18 years old, biometric data without the consent of the parent/s or the student.  Consent must be given in writing from the parent/s.  Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

·         If one parent consents and the other does not, the non-consent takes precedence.

·         If the parent/s consent and the student does not, the students non-consent takes precedence.

·         If the parent/s do not consent and the student does consent, the parents non-consent takes precedence.

If a consent is not given the school “must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.” as detailed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012,Chapter 2 Section 26 (7).

Parent/s must be informed by the school that they are using a biometric system and the school must gain written consent from the parent/s to take and process their child’s biometric data.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.
Schools do not always make it clear when asking for consent that an alternative to the biometric system is available and that non-consent ultimately lies with the student.

Regardless of consent given by your parent/s you alone determine whether a school takes and processes your biometric data.   If you choose not to use a biometric system the school must provide an alternative and must not withhold any services from you that is available through their biometric system.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.

Friday, August 03, 2018

Biometric consent for students in Scotland

Under the Protection of Freedom Act 2012 if schools want to use and process a child's biometric data
they must ask for consent from the pupils and parents.  Schools must also offer an alternative option to access systems if consent is not given to process a student's biometrics - such as a pin number or swipe card.

Schools use a student's biometrics to access facilities such as canteen, library, registration, etc, and the biometric of choice seems to favour the fingerprint.

The Protection of Freedom Act 2012, Chapter 2, details how schools must seek consent to hold and process student's biometric data.  However, this consent only applies to children in England and Wales and with Scottish authorities planning to roll out more biometric technology in schools to extend consent for Scottish students, around the use of their biometric data, is absolutely reasonable. 

In order to move towards consent for children in Scotland (and Northern Ireland) Freedom of Information requests have been sent to every local authority in Scotland to determine how prevalent the technology is in schools, whether consent is sought, type of biometrics used and for what purpose.  As it is school holidays, and given that the beginning of term is busy, we expect to this this information back by end October 2018 and then work to get this issue of consent raised in the Scottish Parliament.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Updates coming... new developments

Since I started this blog over 10 years ago the state of surveillance, monitoring and application of biometric technology used in schools on our children, the next generation, has increased beyond imagination.  Okay, there may be arguments that his 'improves' their education, enables better educational analysis, reduce admin time/costs, etc... but personally, I've not seen a dramatic increase in the next generations intellectual ability or schools being more affluent because of technology.  Certainly here in the UK we currently have a national funding crisis in education. 

It is a different education that is needed for today's kids.  Access to information is greater to an individual than ever before.  Knowing and retaining information in this age maybe is not a necessity as much as it was.  Moreover how to apply that knowledge in this ever changing society perhaps is a skill children should learn.  Discernment, where one's digital footprint is left and the data left again one's digital identity should also be considered.  How, who and what may be assumed by a children's online activities on the Internet - and within a school network - is a burgeoning area that needs urgent consideration, especially for those it could potentially affect in decades to come. 

With governments, private education tech companies and private companies running schools having access to individual educational data from the age of 2 years old (in the UK) to 19 and beyond gives an enormous potential for profiling.  I could write about this for an age, as these are all points that have been raised with the proliferation of technology in education for the past decade plus.

What to do?  I have been absent somewhat from blogging here as the transfer of biometric technology tested used on children in the UK has now widened into the rest of society.  My concern is when the state uses biometric technology without consent, much as schools did from 2001 - 2013 in the UK.  I set up a sister blog a couple of years ago to keep the two developments of biometric technology, schools / wider society, separate - see my State of Surveillance website.

However, there is now an issue of facial recognition creeping into US and Chinese schools for a variety of reasons.  Here in England and Wales (not Scotland or Northern Ireland) facial recognition is not viably an option for schools with under 18 year olds, as per the consent required under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.   The argument for the use of biometrics in schools - whether  fingerprint or facial recognition - is basically unproven, as other, less invasive, less 'valuable', means of identification will suffice.   This is an issue I intend to raise again here.

So, hopefully, (in a rather large nutshell) I've explained my absence and fully intend at least once a week to start again back here.   T'will be nice to get back to it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Updated Advice for schools on using pupil's Biometrics

Last Month the Department for Education issued an updated advice for schools taking and processing students biometric data.

This useful advice is also a 'must' read for students and parents so they are fully aware of their rights of access to services should they choose NOT to participate in a biometric system.

A recent survey, carried out by DefendDigitalMe, revealed that:
"Over a third (38%) [of parents] of those who said their child’s school uses biometric technology said they were not offered a choice of whether to use this system or not and 50% have not been informed how long the fingerprints or other biometric data are retained for, or when they will be destroyed — despite the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 requiring parental consent, and an alternative to be on offer, showing that practical guidance is needed to help schools understand how to implement the legislation."
This shows that there is still clearly a lack of understanding by schools of their legislative obligations to parents and students with regards to biometric data storage, processing and their consent.

Please do have a read of the above advice, any of the information here and make an informed choice about your/your children's biometric data.