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More than One million pupils fingerprinted at school

7075085533_f656a28082_oAs the new school term gets underway, now is the time for parents to check if their children are among the hundreds of thousands of pupils who are using biometric technology.

Today we have published our latest report looking at the use of biometric technology in secondary schools and academies which, based on data from the 2012-13 academic year, makes clear that fingerprints were taken from more than one million pupils.

You can read the report here.


Our 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
  • An estimated 31% of schools did not consult parents before enrolling children into a biometric system prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 becoming law

Based on these figures, we estimate potentially as many as 1.28 million pupils have been fingerprinted at school, many without parental permission first being granted.

Going to school should not mean kids are taught they have no privacy, especially at a time when we are sharing more data about ourselves than ever before. Fingerprinting them and tracking what they do might save some admin work but the risk is pupils think it is normal to be tracked like this all the time. Schools need to be transparent about what data is being collected and how it is used.

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.

Parents will be rightly concerned to hear so many schools did not seek their permission to fingerprint their children, while pupils may not have been made aware they now have a legal right to ask to use a system that doesn’t require a fingerprint to be taken. The Government was right to change the law but it’s up to parents to make sure the law is being followed.

Posted on by Big Brother Watch Posted in Biometrics, Privacy, Protection of Freedoms Bill, Research and reports

43 Responses to More than One million pupils fingerprinted at school

  1. Mark Long

    I live in Ireland & my school used a biometric system for dinner payments etc and I really didn’t see it as a big deal in all honesty. I think it was mentioned in a letter sent out by the school in August of that year, but no permission was asked for, and it took place on the first day of term in my first year. If anything, myself and all my classmates were looking forward to using the system rather than viewing it with an overly cynical approach. I used it for all of my time there, & never once thought of there being any issue of privacy surrounding it.

    • Adrian

      If it’s just the use as proposed – no problem. The problem is a. Function Creep – we have all those fingerprints, let’s use them for all eternity in case one student will do something wrong. b. Hackers could steal a biometric database and use it for fake passports c. You never know what future leader will abuse this. (Godwin Alert) – In WW2 the dutch jews were nearly eradicated because the jewish community itself (!) had kept such a great register of jewish persons in the thirties…all that info came in handy for the nazi’s.

    • Mo Raf

      I hate people like this who “don’t see the harm” in taking fingerprints. Are you that blind? You’re telling kids “we don’t trust you” in respect of even food payments. Get a brain. It’s evil. How can you possibly inculcate trust in society when heavy handed criminal methods are applied to those we have a duty to teach? This is a disaster, without mission creep and the possibility for stealing and falsely implanting etc.

    • GringaGrande

      Well, you know… when some people ask you personal information, especially unique information about yourself, usually either it’s the police or people who are up to no good.

      take care

  2. Richas

    The picture used of a full police style fingerprint is misleading. There is no record of the fingerprint stored, it is a 15 digit number generated from the scan, it is far from unique and could in no way be used to incriminate or even identify the individual in a very large group there will be duplicates.

    It is only good enough to confirm ID against the name provided. At my school the introduction of a library scanner saved the cost of library cards and their replacement so it was cheaper but the best bit was that there was a big jump in lending from the library, up 150% in the first term and still up 50% two years later. The kids liked it and as they could always get a book even without a card they read more.

    In the canteen the system means that free school meal pupils are indistinguishable from those paying for their food. Removing this stigma is important.

    It is not by definition “big brother” to use a biometric identifier.

    • Adrian

      Very interesting and thanks for the info!

      • Richas

        You’re welcome.

        The way that a biometric or card based school meals system protects the privacy of the individual pupil with regard to their free school meal status is important. Moving from cash to cashless is the only realistic way to protect their privacy and once you have account based purchases you have to have some form of ID.

        • pharmer

          The public ‘education’ system is a huge failure. It’s actually an indoctrination and brainwashing prison, where children are profiled, vaccinated, and in many cases drugged forcibly by law. I would NEVER send my children to a public indoctrination and brainwashing prison for their ‘education’! Home birth and home schooling is the ONLY way that makes sense. Online educational software makes home schooling much easier than in the old days, and will eventually put the public ‘schools’ out of business. The government should not be involved in educating our children, nor feeding, vaccinating and drugging them. My children will be home birthed and home schooled: big brother will not even know they exist! The government (elite cabal that controls it) thinks our children are their property, so the only way to give our children freedom is by home birthing and schooling away from the prying tentacles of slimy, evil governments of the elite!

          • Judáš Prána

            Yes, your children will be home birthed, home schooled and home paranoic.

    • George

      Its not really that simple, yes the identity data is stored as a number but there are a limited number of algorithm’s used and the move is to standardize these across systems. Such data which can be used across systems will be a potentially valuable target for criminals. There is also the fact that just because the police hold their data as images is unlikely to stop them using such a gold mine of identity data for preliminary screening to identify suspects. Remember hackers broke the security on the I phone fingerprint scanner two days after its release. I suppose it comes down to how much we trust the systems and the law to protect this data.

    • Bill

      “There is no record of the fingerprint stored,”

      And you know that how?

      We were told that there was no record stored for the TSA porn scanners in US airports.

      We were told that Saddam Hussein could attack the UK at 20 minutes notice.

  3. Biometrics Institute

    The independent not-for-profit Biometrics Institute representing the users, suppliers and researcher of biometrics has been established in 2001 to promote the responsible use of biometrics. It has developed Guidelines which could be viewed at http://www.biometricsinstitute.org. These Guidelines, for the use of biometrics are intended to ensure, amongst other things, that users and vendors of biometrics are given assistance about issues such as informed consent, the secure storage of biometrics and methods of responsible collection. We encourage any school or parent to contact us to find out more.

  4. Anon

    An issue that needs to be raised is one of becoming complacent about providing data for all sorts of processes. Future generations will not have any privacy or know what it is like to have privacy if we do not stop the erosion of privacy now. Kids using biometric ID now might not know how this information can be used in the future even if it is claimed only to generate a number for the name given – technological progress means that future technology is likely to be able to access/use such data for other purposes.

    Yes it might be easier for kids to provide a fingerprint to get a library book out now but can they really be sure that it won’t come back to bite them in the future removing any possibilities of choice and privacy that they might want?

  5. Dick Puddlecote

    Oh come now, Adrian, listen well to the previous comments. How do you expect your children’s generation to meekly accept the fingerprinting of all citizens and biometric security at every turn, when the time comes, if they haven’t been desensitized to it from an early age? ;)

    Seriously. Thanks to BBW for campaigning on this. I have two kids in secondary school who were both fingerprinted prior to the new law without any mention of it to parents. Everything else about the school was explained in a pack for parents of new students, except this. It’s common courtesy, if nothing else.

    • Dick Puddlecote

      Oh yeah, and well done for getting the story onto 5 Live Drive just now.

  6. Rebel Saint

    Prior to my son starting secondary school this September, he attended a “transition day” in June. Amongst all the paperwork we received was a consent form for the biometric payment system. We refused consent very clearly. He had his fingerprint taken anyway!

    When we complained we were informed that consent was only needed post-September … beforehand they didn’t need our consent!!!

    After kicking up a fuss they apologised and assured us our sons biometric data would be removed. It was nearly a full 6-weeks into the new term before an adequate alternative arrangement was made for our son to receive his lunch.

    The argument that the system doesn’t store a full print is a spurious one: (a) we only have their word for it! (b) the full fingerprint must be scanned for the unique points to be identified (c) saying that a 15 digit number doesn’t uniquely identify someone … er… that’s 999,999,999,999,999 different possibilities = enough to identify everyone on the planet uniquely, and that’s just in decimal! (d) that’s like saying facial recognition software doesn’t use an actual image, just a numeric representation of it … the point is it can uniquely identify someone using biometric data.

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  11. Andrew

    Just another step towards the Orwellian society. Most of the comments worry me – most people seem more concerned with the intricate details of should the school have consent ort not etc. instead of “this is wrong and should be stopped”. School is a place where you are meant to be taught to read, write and add up etc, not brainwashed in all aspects of government doctrine and moulded to comply with anything the government damn well pleases to throw at you – please wake up.

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  15. Antony

    My son’s school sent home a request for finger-printing for use in their new biometrics system. We did not give permission, and they still went ahead and did it.

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  29. jim

    I’ve never seen so much moaning by people. Your kids fingerprint is stored as a number that has no purpose except for getting your food at lunch. However you are all using the internet which you are fully tracked by your iP address and your network connection that youve paid for using your bank which holds all your personal information about who you are and where you live. You internet provider is recording everything you do and everything you download. Your personal emails are sent all over the world before you read them. Your mobile tracks every moment you make. Your bank card everything you eat. Google knows what you do and then you share your life and views on a site like this with people you have never met. The big thing is you pay to do you this. However when a school wants to make it easier for your kids to get lunch and store a number which which records a number that looks nothing like the fingerprint they leave behind 1000′s of times a day on every glass, door they touch.

    • Charles Tsang

      Are detractors of biometric systems in schools moaning?
      All the parallels given by another commentor on this forum are not the same as fingerprints.
      I can change my IP address, I can change my ISP, I can change my facebook account, I can change my mobile, I can change my mobile network.
      If I report fraudulent usage of my credit card I can get a new one within a week.
      Other than doing the Seven movie trick of burning off finger prints how do we change our finger prints.
      Can detractors of people who are worried not see that the *impact* of losing your biometrics by someone hacking a school computer system would far outweigh any savings in a school system?
      And so what if there is a currently supposedly irreversible 15 point representation of your fingerprint in the system…
      DVDs were supposed to be encrypted. Heard of DeCSS? Blu rays have encrypted movies. Why are there so many blu ray rips out there?
      If a single pupil’s 15 point number is lost/corrupted, do they have to go back to source ie the original finger or do they generate another one from a copy held somewhere?
      Most people won’t know whether the finger scans are stored or not as images or whatever, you only have the word of the sellers of the system.
      The person selling biometric scanners isn’t going to know the ins and outs of the actual mechanics. None of the software people will even know.
      Is there a cache on the server that is held until it becomes full and is flushed?
      No one knew that Apache Web servers running HTTPS of a particular variant stored the passwords in plain text in memory for anyone to hack and read until years after the fact.
      The point being, we all changed our passwords to fix something that no one knew or thought was a vulnerability. After all, it was securely encrypted wasn’t it?

  30. Michael

    Personally speaking, it all depends on what technology the biometrics company uses, especially with the software with regards to hacking etc. Biometrics should be looked on as a benefit rather than people coming up with all these weird conspiracy theories. Biometrics needs to be used as a benefit for schools. If students need to scan-in everyday to school/college then it would be a huge benefit for back-office attendance data. Scanning into classes and other areas of the educational establishment would be more of a benefit with regards to health and safety. If there is a fire in the school, or any other serious situation, then a simple click of the button would reveal ‘who is where’. Imagine a fire in a certain area of the school…would it not be great if this data can be provided to the emergency services as to what area they need to concentrate on and who needs help instead of them going room to room and wasting time looking for folks. Anyway, this is just one of the many advantages of Biometrics..

  31. Dougie

    As a retired secondary teacher, I suggested having some form of biometric registration introduced (with parental consent) about 15 years ago purely as a means of tracking attendance throughout the day…. having said that, I was more than happy not to have some of the wee f***rs not turn up… strangely they never seemed to have taken the hint. That aside, this would have saved teaching and administrative staff wasted hours recording and checking attendance. Personally, I’d make high school mandatory until age 14. If they want further education, they can take it up when they feel it to be of value or not. My suggestion of biometric recording fell on deaf ears…. as usual.

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