UK schools fast to adopt biometrics - 1m+ pupils registered
03 January 2014 16:01 GMT

Almost half of UK secondary schools are supporters of biometric systems

New research has been published that shows more than one million children in England have had their fingerprints taken by their school, demonstrating a high demand for the technology despite possible privacy concerns.

The figures come from a Big Brother Watch report "Biometrics in Schools" which calculated that over 1.28 million students had been fingerprinted in secondary schools and academies (based on data from the 2012-13 academic year).

The research, gathered from Freedom of Information Requests to more than 3,000 schools, shows that at the start of the academic year 2012-13 an estimated 40% of schools in England are using biometric technology.

Laws governing the enrolling of biometrics in schools were enshrined in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012. Before that Act came into force, Big Brother Watch estimates that 31% of schools did not consult parents before enrolling children.

Under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, the rules for schools and colleges that use biometric recognition systems, such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning, now state:

  • For all pupils in schools and colleges under 18, they must obtain the written consent of a parent before they take and process their child’s biometric data.
  • They must treat the data with appropriate care and must comply with data protection principles as set out in the Data Protection Act 1998.
  • They must provide alternative means for accessing services where a parent or pupil has refused consent.

A spokesman at the Association of School and College Leaders - which represents secondary school heads - said: “It is significantly easier for schools to use this system in a number of ways - for example for taking things out of libraries and at meal-times. Most kids don’t lose their fingers whereas losing cards is far more likely. This cuts down on the need for youngsters to carry cards. Children can also have their cards stolen or be bullied for them.”

These sorts of systems also mean pupils entitled to free school meals no longer have to present a card which could identify them to other pupils.

The Biometrics Institute, an independent and international body representing the users, vendors and researchers of biometrics has reminded schools and parents that parents' consent is required by law if schools intend to take fingerprints of their children.

The Biometrics Institute's CEO, Isabelle Moeller,commented: "Under the Act, parents must be notified about the school's intention to fingerprint students together with details such as the type of biometric to be used, how it will be used, the pupil or parents' right to refuse fingerprinting, the availability of reasonable alternatives to biometrics plus the way in which the biometric will be stored."

Moeller said the Biometrics Institute had Biometrics Privacy Guidelines which could be viewed at http://www.biometricsinstitute.org/pages/privacy-biometrics.html. These Guidelines for the use of biometrics were intended to ensure, amongst other things, that users and vendors of biometrics were given assistance about issues such as informed consent, the secure storage of biometrics and methods of responsible collection.

"All schools should look at our guidelines before they decide to purchase biometrics from vendors. The Guidelines and the Act are there to ensure that biometrics are used in a responsible way that doesn't invade privacy."

She said: "This also means biometrics should be used in an inclusive way, for example making sure the software is properly set to avoid certain pupils being inconvenienced just for having similar or indistinct fingerprints, which can be a particular problem amongst younger children."

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