Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Prime Minister's Office has responded to Tom Watson's petition

We received a petition asking:

"We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that the DFES provide guidelines for the use of biometric technologies in schools."

The Government's response:
The Department for Education and Skills does provide guidance for schools and local authorities on data protection and the security of personal data which would include Biometric data.

However we are currently working with the British Educational and Communication Technology Agency (Becta) and with the office of the Information Commissioner to update the guidance including around the use of Biometric technologies.

Maybe Nick Gibb's and Sarah Teather's parliamentary questions, Jim Knight's 21 written communications, Tom Watson's petition and representaions by concerned parents and civil rights groups has had an effect.

When parliamentary written questions were posed by Nick Gibb and Sarah Teather, as late as October this year, no mention of this guidance was made - but if in the past 60+ days the government have decided to act on drafting some guidelines, then brilliant!

A given time scale would be good though.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Ethics of tracking children's eating habits

Thanks to ARCH blog for highlighting this important issue of ethics brought up in a report by the Institute of Food Research (IFR).

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/4683697.stm

Researchers tracked what children were eating by analysing data from "smartcards", used to buy meals. This method meant the information was "99% accurate" but created "ethical problems" over pupils' privacy.

An Institute of Food Research senior nutritionist said:
"...what a school does with that important health information presents society with an ethical issue".

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Oldham High Schools splash out on biometric technology

High schools in Oldham, Manchester, are spending tens of thousands of pounds on biometric technology to "fight obesity".

After the selling off of school playing fields over the past few decades, is biometric technology really the way to fight obesity?

It would be hoped that the Local Government in Oldham is monitoring the level of obesity in these schools, to see whether justifying the amount of money spent "fighting obesity", via biometrics, does have an effect on the health of our school children.

This is a vast amount of public money. If the technology works - great, but lets see some research BEFORE thousands of pounds is sunk into this technology. Maybe there is some research out there proving that biometric finger scanners in school lunch queues does reduce student obesity - if there is, let me know - I'll gladly publish it here.

I suspect though, "fighting obesity" is yet another glamorous claim that using children's biometrics in school can solve. Lets face it, why aren't the retailers of this technology honest? - because the main aim of biometrics in schools is to monitor and if it was sold on that basis there wouldn't be too much support for it.

Saddleworth School -brought in fingerprint-scanning technology to monitor pupils' eating habits. Details of everything they eat is then kept on file and posted to their parents at the end of each week or term. They have been using it for about a month now.

Kaskenmoor School - installing the scanning equipment and will go live next month.

Failsworth School - may bring in the new technology at its new £28 million site when it opens in 2008. At Failsworth, the fingerprint technology would also be used to sign in pupils at the start of the day - getting rid of the need for traditional registration periods


Failsworth School's head teacher David Johnson said:
"We live in an age of obesity, and this system would mean we could track what pupils are eating and report back to parents. I suppose there is an element of Big Brother."

South Chadderton School - expressed an interest in adopting the new technology

North Chadderton School - uses biometric scanning to allow students to pay for school trips to stop them having to carry large sums of money into school.

(details taken from the Oldham Chronicle)

Sunday, December 24, 2006

‘What are the seven best things you did this past year?’

Just been 'tagged' by ARCH's Blog (thanks!) to list 7 of the best things that I've done this year. So here we go, in no particular order...

1. Had a fabulous family holiday in summer to the Orkney Islands visiting friends who live there - what a stunning place, people friendly, scenary great, hardly any traffic and loads to do. If you're stuck for a holiday, I can highly recommend the Orkney Islands.

2. Discovered Seth Lakeman's music.

3. Cut my working week from 20 hours to 12 hours in July. So now I'm not as constantly tired and have more time with my family- fantastic!

4. Got a dog in February. A black Patterdale Terrier 11 months old. He's a lovely dog and came to us completely house trained and it gets us up and out the house walking him. Here he is --->

5. Started this blog in October and making some headway with getting regulations on the use of biometric technology with children - also have met some good friends along the way.

6. Learnt how to use Photoshop 6 (after many cups of coffee and head scratching).

7. Not everyones highlight of the year but I learnt to cook mousaka. I'm still fine tuning the process as the last one was a bit wierd really, not like the one before but still same receipe - how does that happen? It was that bad I couldn't eat it, kids loved it though and they were okay after it...

Now I've got to tag someone...mmm, well I would have tagged ARCH Blog but they've already been tagged so here goes Andy Clymer, and Eric Dobbs.


MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Only biometric registration to go!

Dyke House Secondary School in Hartlepool, Cleveland, have just spent £25,000 on a biometric finger scanner for its canteen. Yes, £25,000 for the sake of quicker queues - amazing!

More truthfully, the probable reason Dyke House puchased this technology is so that school managers and parents can monitor what their students are eating. But even so...£25,000?

Can the governors of the school really justify this huge amount of money simply to speed up the dinner lines? Governors are expected to provide good-quality schooling and spend public money wisely. £25,000 is certainly a lot of money to spend on catering technology and this on top of the cost of the biometric scanner they already have in their library.

I’m sure the money already spent could have been used in a way that children actually benefit from, rather than glitzy technology that probably works, certainly makes report generating easier but nevertheless costs the salary of a teacher. The deputy head and the pupils think the system is "fantastic" - but so is a 2 week holiday to the Seychelles or a nice car but it doesn't necessarily justify the cost.

Mind you, Dyke House Secondary School have just won a BECTA award in ICT...

Pointing way to hi-tech future

- TASTY school meals are just a fingertip away for children at a futuristic school.


Pupils at Dyke House Secondary School, in Hartlepool, are enjoying a hi-tech way of paying for their school meals. Instead of paying with standard swipe cards or money, they are using a biometric reading machine. It records unique details from the tips of their fingers which will be converted into a number which they can top up with money.

Deputy headteacher John Taylor said the scheme, which costs £25,000, was “fantastic.” He said: “The pupils can put their dinner money into the machine and it will automatically load into their account the same way a swipe card would work.” Mr Taylor said the pupils think the scheme is fantastic and really hi-tech. “You’d never believe schools would have things like this. “They don’t have to remember their swipe cards - it’s simple, the children can’t forget their fingers.”

He said: “We have been running a similar fingertip recognition system in our library to loan books. I’m almost certain we are the only school in the town to use such a machine.” Mr Taylor added that the lunch queue was now running much quicker and smoother thanks to the new system, which also helps to take away the stigma of which children are eligible for free meals.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Voice biometrics for school catering by 2007

Voice biometrics are to be used in US school cafeterias in 2007. After the initial roll out in the States the companies plan to introduce the technology in Latin America and Asia.

This from TMCnet:

Instead of trying to manage long lunch lines of children scrambling to get a meal, PCS Revenue Control Systems, Inc., provider of point of sale (POS) systems and voice biometrics company, CellMax Systems Inc., are making payment and management of school lunch a more efficient process via their joint voice recognition-based identification, verification and payment system designed specifically for the school lunchroom environment.

Students simply say their name and student number and their account is immediately charged for their meals, allowing them to quickly move through the lunch line and get back to the table to eat. This will save schools time spent trying to keep youngsters orderly as they move through the lines.

Why do educational establishments and advisers think that having fingerprint and voices biometrics will calm children down in lunch queues and stop stigma of free school meals? Has research been done on whether biometric technology has this quietening down effect on students? Really students should be taught to line in an orderly manner and respect that people have varying levels of income, that some people have and some don't have - that's life.

I do have my doubts about the various reasons touted in press releases and the industry's spiel about school biometric systems and why the technology should be in schools. It seems to me that valuable life lessons that children will need as adults, are being overlooked.

The life lesson they will learn that it is okay to compliantly yield their biometric information in exchange for food and learning resources, without knowing who has access to their habits or how their information is used.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Children's attitudes to fingerprinting in schools

Some research has been done, as part of a larger ICT project, on childrens perceptions of biometrics in schools.

The Trustguide, a collaborative research project between BT Group Chief Technology Office Research and Venturing and HP Labs, is part funded by the DTI Sciencewise programme.
The research seeks to build on the previous government sponsored Foresight project concerned with where responsibilities lie in making our future ICT-enabled world safer.

On page 77 of the Trustguide, published in October this year, it states:

In addition, in some of the groups we discovered that their school used fingerprinting to take books out of the library. Once again, there seemed to be little consideration for the potential infringement to privacy or civil rights this posed:

Yeah, it's ok because you want a book.”

“Yeah, because the police could actually get your fingerprint up if they really needed it.”

“It's acceptable because the police can find you if you did something wrong, and there's fingerprints there, you can actually find out who's fingerprint it was, because it might be on the system.”

“It's only on the school records, so, it's only in school.”

“I think it would help in at least trying to identify criminals, or something. If you had all schoolchildren's fingerprints already on record. ”

We asked children how long the school kept their fingerprint records and found that most had not even considered this question and showed little concern:

“I think they keep them for a certain amount of time, a couple of years or something, but I've no idea. I think it's wiped off.”

We considered why this apathy existed. It seemed that none of the attendees were thinking beyond the immediate scenario or what they had been told from ‘trusted’ sources (i.e. their parents, their teachers, or the community policeman). They felt that they could not challenge this viewpoint, or present any alternative views. While beyond the scope of the Trustguide project, this does pose some interesting theories regarding the ‘tipping point’ where children move from being passive learners to actively challenging authority. We saw no evidence of this within our discussions so must conclude it comes, if at all, in later teenaged years.

I think the last paragraph sums up why some parents and civil rights groups are alarmed by biometric technology in schools. Children do learn from trusted sources and don't always challenge why they are being asked to do something.

Adult opinion of the use of biometrics for surveillance are under "Use of biometric data" (page29). It states that:

There were high levels of scepticism and negativity around the use of biometrics and some biometric data was seen as far more controversial than other forms. (page31)

Our discussion around biometric data resulted in some fairly heated debate about why it is necessary to be identified with increasing levels of accuracy, by whom, and indeed, the need to be identified at all, in an increasing array of diverse situations. Much of the discussion focused on the opinion, held by many, that they can already identify themselves via a variety of means. (page32)

Many adults are wary of the use of biometrics for themselves, as the report states. So why is it acceptable for our children in schools to use the technology when we, adults, are skeptical of it?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Plans to scan student fingerprints called off

This article from the LA Times 6 December.

Proposal was supposed to speed food lines and deter theft at
University High, but school district officials scrap the idea after privacy issues are raised.

Ted Faison, a parent of a University senior, had concerns about the legality and constitutionality of fingerprinting students. He decided to try to stop the school from implementing the project after receiving a letter from the school Friday stating the school was to begin scanning the 2,300-plus students starting Monday

"It's a violation of their privacy," he said. "They collect enough information to identify a person's fingerprint, and could easily share this with law enforcement or anyone else. Students would have no control over where the information could be used."

"This is not something we will be using at our schools," said Ian Hanigan, district spokesman. "It's safe to say that this pilot [program] was marched out probably a little too quickly, without the study and evaluation needed to do something like this."

Hector Villagra, director of the Orange County chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, agreed. "Parents are rightly concerned about the privacy of their children," he said. "These fingerprint scanners look like overkill. You can do the same identification of students without this type of technology and without the danger of creating a database that could be used for other purposes or that could be breached."

Junior Emerald Greene described the proposal as "creepy.""It is an invasion of privacy because they are monitoring what food I buy and how much money I spend," the 17-year-old said.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

No one admits to fully knowing how many children use their biometrics in schools and for what purposes they use them. Unfortunately therefore, analysis can’t be done to see if children really do read more books, bullying is stamped out at dinner queues and whether installing that £1000’s worth of biometric registration system actually does reduce truancy.

Claims by biometric suppliers to schools are that using biometrics gives:

“More time devoted to teaching - every day and for every student!” and...

“It will help to prevent bullying, by ensuring that students no longer need to carry cash to school” (What message is this sending to children? That carrying cash makes you a victim? Shouldn't the younger generation be taught how to manage money and that our society doesn't tolerate bullies?)

However I suspect that the government new guidelines on detailing pupil absence that came into force this September, school catering revenues/profits down, childhood obesity rising and that literacy rates could be improved could be some of the real reasons to monitor our children with the ease of biometric technology.

Business and government may attempt to sell us on biometric convenience but the use of these technologies are increasingly falling within schools, to one of surveillance and control rather than the initial reason they were invented – for security.

Unless the Government makes an effort to monitor this technology in schools, to see whether having it is necessary over normal electronic systems, a whole generation of children will have a open mindset to blindly giving up their biometric data in exchange for learning resources and food.

What exactly are the next generation learning from this?

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some advice for School Governors

Over on Leave Them Kids Alone website a new page has been set up dealing with the issues surrounding biometrics used in schools for their governors to consider.

"Over the past few months, we have been approached by a number of governors and head teachers and asked for our understanding of the matter; the following represents the position as far as we are aware. We have sought clarification from a number of leading QCs and barristers in producing these guidelines, and have used our best endeavours to cover as many of the relevant issues as possible."

On security and spending budgets there are some very valid points.

"Certainly a standard personal computer connected to a fingerprint scanner lying around in a school library would not generally be considered adequately protected.

Governors have a duty to obtain 'best value' for their delegated budget. So an argument could be made that spending significant sums of money on optional modules may not be the best way to use the delegated budget."

School governors, if they are consulted on purchases of a biometric technology (as I am aware of some circumstances when they have not been), need to think very carefully of the possible implications of having biometrics in schools.

The question has to be asked – Why is it left to Leave Them Kids Alone to advise governors? and well done to them for doing so... but where is the Governments advice on this?

Labour MP’s, as seen by answers given in Parliament this year, have no solid advice to offer at all to schools, parents or governors. The answers given by the government have been so flimsy that Tom Watson, a Labour MP, has called for advice from the DfES - see his petition.

As Janette Owen wrote in the Guardian only last week "We want information about fingerprinting - and we want it now. "

Saturday, November 25, 2006

"Tips for fingerprinting children"

This has to be seen to be believed. This page was online from November 2001 until September 14th 2006 when all trace of it suddenly disappeared, less than 12 hours after Leave Them Kids Alone website brought it to public attention. LTKA's site details how the council have made no comment on this - what could they say! Thanks to the Internet Archive it is still available online.

I personally find the last sentance appalling.

"You may need to guide the thumb to the scanner" This 'advice' was on Dudley Council's website for nearly 5 years.

I find the mental image of a teacher physically guiding a childs hand to a fingerprint scanner very disturbing. What would the psychological effect of this have on a young child? It would be difficult to imagine a dissenting 16 year old's thumb being guided to a scanner. Older children are more aware of their rights and in some cases high school students have refused to have their biometrics used for access to books, lunches and computers. Younger children are not aware of their rights and are more bidable, is this where the above 'advice' is applicable?

Thank goodness Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council have withdrawn it, buts lets face it, it shouldn't have been there in the first place.

Surely this is advert enough to urgently review what exactly is happening in schools with biometric technology.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Police analyse suspects fingerprints - with their permission

UK police are now trialing a system that analyses fingerprints from adults using technology similar to that used in our schools.

Trials are now being used by the UK police to check suspected criminals in a scheme known as Lantern whereby after scanning the subject’s index fingers the encrypted data is sent via wireless transmission to the central fingerprint database to be compaired against the 6.5 million fingerprints stored there.

BBC News today - “police officers will be able to check the fingerprints from both index fingers of the suspect - with their permission - against a central computer database”

In the media this is ringing alarm bells with civil liberties groups.

Ironic indeed that under our very noses every day and week children have this done routinely in our schools - quite often without parental permission or knowledge.

Substitute/add…

“[police officers] schools will be able to check the fingerprints from both index fingers of the [suspect] pupil – with-out their (or their parents) informed permission - against a central computer database”

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils?"

Janette Owen writes today in the Guardian “Where do we stand on fingerprinting pupils.?”

“…what is best practice? What are the legal guidelines? What right does the school have to gather such information? What powers do parents have to withdraw their permission - and do governors have to tell parents?"

...Parents against fingerprinting have set up their own protest site called leavethemkidsalone.com, and Action on Rights for Children, an internet-based children's rights organisation, is also actively campaigning.

"Amazingly, I can find no information or guidance for governors, or teachers, about the use of biometrics in schools. There is nothing on the DfES site, except a link to the parents centre discussion thread, nothing on governornet and nothing on the site of the Information Commissioner's Office, who is responsible for the enforcement of the Data Protection Act.

This is yet another example of the DfES failing to respond to the needs of governors - and all other stakeholders - for information on a topical and developing subject. Why can't the department tackle the issues that are being so hotly debated on its own websites?"


I agree.

These are questions myself, other parents, human and civil rights organisations, county/city councillors and MP’s want the answer to as concerns grow over the use of biometric technology in our schools.

Labour's Education Depatment have given some 'answers' on the biometric issue.

...so, here are the ‘answers’ the government has given after written parliamentary questions put by Nick Gibb, Conservative Schools Minister in February this year, Sarah Teather, Liberal Democrat Education Spokesperson in July and again by Nick Gibb last month:

Feb 2006 - Jacqui Smith: My Department has issued no guidance to schools on the collection and recording of pupils' biometric information. In collecting data of this type the school is likely to rely on the broad powers contained in paragraph 3 of Schedule 1 of the Education Act 2002. This enables a governing body to do anything which appears to them to be necessary or expedient for the purposes of, or in connection with the conduct of the school.

July 2006 - Beverley Hughes: I refer the hon. Member to the reply given on 27 February 2006, Official Report, column 504W, to the hon. Member for Bognor Regis and Littlehampton (Mr. Gibb). [above]

October 2006 - Jim Knight: The Department has not issued guidance to school governors on whether they should consult parents before implementing a policy of taking thumb prints for library issues… The British Educational Communications and Technology Agency (BECTA) published guidance for schools in 2004 on their obligations and responsibilities under the Data Protection Act and other related legislation.

So then, schools are operating within the "broad powers" of the Education Act and on the advice of a large NGO, BECTA. I sense a severe lack of government advice here on where the Labour Education Department and DfES stands on fingerprinting pupils.

Janette's last sentence in her article says it all -

"We want information about fingerprinting - and we want it now. "

Monday, November 20, 2006

Tom Watson Petition

Tom Watson, Labour MP for West Bromwich East, has a petition at

http://petitions.pm.gov.uk/biometrics/ - get clicking!!!

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to ensure that the DFES provide guidelines for the use of biometric technologies in schools.
Submitted by Tom Watson,
http://www.tom-watson.co.uk – Deadline to sign up by: 15 December 2006

Concerns over biometrics in Scottish schools

After the installation of a vein palmprint reader for the canteen at a Glasgow primary school this term, the issue of biometrics in schools has again been raised in the Scottish Parliament.

The Scottish Parliament Business Bulletin today lists:

*S2M-5171 Ms Rosemary Byrne: Biometric Scanning of Children

That the Parliament condemns the decision of Renfrewshire Council to install a biometric scanner system in Todholm Primary School in Paisley; believes that this is an unnecessary intrusion into the private lives of children and their families; condemns the Scottish Executive for allowing this system to be installed without a debate in the Parliament to discuss the implications of such a measure and its apparent inability to answer parliamentary questions on the matter, including questions on what company is supplying the system, the cost of the system, who is paying for the system, who stores the personal data collected, what safeguards are in place with regard to the storage of the data and whether parents had an opt-out of the system; believes that the introduction of such a system may be in breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and calls on the Executive to initiate a full debate in the Parliament as a matter of urgency on the issue. [my emphasis]

"what company is supplying the system"
The company supplying the system is Yarg Biometrics who have worked in conjunction with Fujitsu to develop this vein reading technology.

"cost of the system"
The cost of the system is unknown but I suspect it is not as cheap as a cash till or the system previously operated.

"who is paying for the system"
Amey have a Private Finance Initiative, PFI, programme in Scotland with Glasgow City Council - the largest education partnership in Europe. The Private Finance Initiative is paid for by us - the taxpayer. Amey were responsible for bringing the palm print vein scanner to the Todholm Primary in Paisley.

"who stores the personal data collected"
Unknown - probably the school but who else has access to it - ?
Presumably reports will be generated by the data stored against each child and those reports will probably be analysed by the LEA and Amey.

"parental opt out option"
Shouldn't it be an "opt in option" i.e. discussion first, purchase/commission technology later?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Electronic ID with option for fingerprinting in Czech Schools

This from the Prague Post in Czechoslovakia, the Konečná Street Elementary School is just about to launch a scheme that involves electronic identification cards for registration purposes otherwise known as “Presence” by the CCA Group.

Bohumír Sobota, Deputy Director of the school in Karlovy Vary, …is getting resistance from members of his own staff.

"While 50 percent of school employees welcome the idea, the other 50 percent are keeping their distance," he said. "We are going to test the system for six months, during which time teachers will get to know it better — even if we might have to push some of them a little bit."

The notion for Presence came when CCA began to sell student chip cards to schools for opening doors or use in dining rooms. Several school administrators proposed integrating an attendance component into the cards. CCA ran with the idea, also introducing the option of fingerprinting.

Systems similar to Presence were the main surprise in this year's nominations for Prague's Big Brother Awards, said Filip Pospíšil of Iuridicum Remedium, the civic rights group that gives out the awards.

"There is a real reason to be concerned," he said. "They educate students that their privacy is not important, that their privacy is something that can be taken from them."

Yet again privacy issues are raised with children unassumingly at the centre of this – AKA the data subjects. I wonder how long it will take before Czechoslovakia desensitises to electronic ID and moves onto biometrics for registration and the myriads of other uses it can be put to in schools. The lack of listening to teachers concerns then "pushing" them to accept systems they are not happy with and the absense of informing parents sounds disapointingly familiar.

Parents were not notified about the impending system, Sobota said - I wonder why, given the teachers concerns...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scottish Council halts fingerprinting in schools

Whilst Dundee City Council (Scotland) have given assurance that the controversial fingerprinting of children is no longer being carried out in schools under their jurisdiction, neighbouring Stirling Council quotes "The Scottish Executive are committed to introducing cashless catering systems in all schools by 2007"

The Green Party in Scotland believe children should be taught the importance of civil liberties and have led a campaign in the Scottish Parliament on the use of biometric data with children.
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow says "children should be taught in an environment which respects their autonomy and privacy and, indeed, encourages them to hold their civil liberties in high regard".

It is clear that biometrics for children our schools are causing very differing views on whether it should be implemented. If this technology is needed in schools, clear guidelines are needed. In the meantime, without regulation, it is an open door to biometric companies in our educational “market”, especially with the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme getting into full swing over the next few years.

Our UK Data Protection Acts states:

The Data Protection Priciples, Part I, The Principles
3. Personal data shall be adequate, relevant and not excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed.

Children who’s biometric information is held on school databases is often held alongside their photograph, address, gender and ethnicity, to log meals eaten, books read, time in and out of classes – is this excessive in relation to the purpose or purposes for which they are processed” ? – I would suggest so.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rolling it out in the States

There are more than 48 million school children in America, the implications for families, schools and business are huge over there - but where is the debate on this? Different states have different laws on biometrics in schools, some parents are asked for permission some are not asked for permission...

As schools are rolling this out in America, concerns are being voiced by parents, privacy groups and senators.

Rome NewsTribune, USA - “It may be perfectly secure, but my daughter is a minor and I understand that supposedly the kids have the option to not have their prints scanned but that’s not being articulated to my daughter,” said Hal Storey “If parents don’t know about it, they don’t know about the ‘opt out’ option.”

Storey’s issue is he was never notified or given information on the system before his 10th grade daughter’s finger was scanned.

ABC , USA - The Hope Elementary School District has
notified parents that, beginning this month, students at Monte Vista, Vieja Valley and Hope elementary schools will press an index finger to a scanner before buying cafeteria food.

"It raises sanitary issues, privacy issues, it is kind of Orwellian,"
said Tina Dabby, a parent of two at Monte Vista Elementary. "It just sounds kind of creepy."

CBN , USA- Chris and Joy Van Guilder recently moved to
Earlville, Illinois with their four children. Chris is opposed to biometrics.

Chris said, "Just red flags all over. I could just feel it
inside me--something is not right...We know this technology can be abused and used for controlling reasons."

Illinois State Senator Miguel Del Valle took action after learning of the Van Guilder's situation. His biometric bill requires parental permission, opt-out policies, and the protection of childrens' data. Del Valle said, "Lists are sold of personal information and so we want to make sure that that doesn't happen with children."

In the UK too:

icLiverpool, UK - Councillor Paul Clein, executive member for education, said:

"I do have misgivings about it and it is something that parents should have to actively agree to... any attempt by schools to force children to take part is wrong, and I would be very concerned if it became part of entry criteria, for example...I suppose it is a reflection of the times we live in, but I do not know where we draw the line."


MorecombeToday, UK - County Councillor Chris Coates, who represents Lancaster Central, said it was "too much of a Big Brother sledgehammer...what I'm really concerned about is that there has been no debate on this issue," he said"It seems to have been introduced without any consultation and real thought over the implications debate...The first I heard about it was when I was approached by a parent over the summer and I'm sure there are many people that don't know their children are being fingerprinted...It is such a big issue that we need a full debate to see if it's a road that we really want to go down."

Oxford Mail, UK - City Councillor Claire Kent found out about the system from her children, who attend the school.

She said: "They were told the data is not being shared with anyone else - but I don't believe that...It is something I would have liked to have been consulted on. What are they doing with the information? I'm very anxious that it doesn't get abused."

The Register, UK - A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said: "Fingerprinting has to be done in consultation with parents and teachers and not imposed. By consultation, we are talking about proper consultation, giving parents time to respond, not installing the machines and then asking parents,"


Plus, there are concerns and issues raised by privacy groups here and in the States.

Biometrics in schools possibly makes queuing, paying for food/school trips a quicker process, registration less time consuming for the teacher, library book issue more streamlined but apart from the civil liberties concerns and worries over what will happen to the data stored now in the decades to come - it also removes the personal human element from school, a 'hello' from the school librarian or dinner lady and that important initial contact in school registration between teacher pupil.

Why are we road testing this technology on our children? Biometrics in schools doesn’t benefit children - biometrics benefits the data collectors not the data subjects/givers.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Hong Kong stops fingerprinting in schools

An approach which is wise and prudent. See The Register, Mark Ballard's article from yesterday:

The Hong Kong privacy commissioner has ordered a school to stop fingerprinting children before it becomes a runaway trend that is too late to stop.

The school, in the Kowloon District, installed the system last year but, under the order of the Hong Kong Privacy Commission, has ripped it out and destroyed all the fingerprint data it had taken from children.

Roderick Woo, Justice of the Peace at the Hong Kong Office of the Privacy Commissioner, told El Reg [The Register] he had decided to examine the issue immediately after the first school installed a fingerprint reader to take registers in his jurisdiction.

And, he decided: "It was a contravention of our law, which is very similar to your law, which is that the function of the school is not to collect data in this manner, that it was excessive and that there was a less privacy-intrusive method to use."


This is prudent move by Hong Kong and the UK government should stop and take note.

At least let us put a stop to the purchase of educational biometric systems now and have an urgent and open debate on whether this type of technology under our UK law is an excessive method of storing our children's data. Canteen payment, registration, library books in/out - all of these are not learning resources, all of these can operate are they did before with no detriment to pupils education.

Whether "ripping" biometric systems out of schools, after the millions of pounds this government has spent on them via eLearning Credits, would seem doubtful now. How many millions of eLearning credits and schools budgets have been spent on these systems is a figure known only to the government. It must be a great deal as the educational biometrics market is definately growing.

If the 'difficult' processes of library cards, paying for food and registration were not running smoothly enough then why didn't government spend a bit on money on improving them by extra staff? This surely would have been a cheaper, more user friendly option option... no, actually I suspect these systems were running okay in the grand scheme of things and certainly not badly enough to warrant spending millions of pounds on them... but what a great way to collate data, generate reports and desensitise our children to the new technology.

I'll let Roderick Woo have the last say...

"...it's not a good way to teach our children how to give privacy rights the consideration they deserve,"

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

To be fair...

To be fair, Marek Rejman-Greene who is currently Head of the Home Office Scientific Development Branch, has also headed a team of European researchers who produced the IST (Information Society Technologies) programme-funded BioVision Roadmap, commented:

"People may have rational or irrational concerns about biometrics, but from my own experience the majority of the population would accept such systems if they are informed of how they work, what data is retained, how that information is used and, especially, if they are given some form of redress if something goes wrong... most importantly, any deployment of biometric systems - be it in the public or private arena - should involve consultation with all interested parties, especially end users."

Though common EU frameworks exist in areas such as personal privacy, and health and safety no such legislation yet governs the use of biometrics, which is seen principally as a data protection issue and therefore remains the responsibility of individual Member States.


This article was dated October 2004. A Code of Conduct was being worked towards with regards to biometric technology in Europe. Whether that has been achieved? - I don't know.

If one exists - it should be applied in our schools where the children's/educational biometric business is booming, not just the UK but in Europe as well.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Adult biometrics or Children biometrics?

Appearing on a panel discussion at the Biometrics 2006 show in London speaking on ID cards, Marek Rejman-Greene, a senior biometrics advisor for the Home Office's scientific development branch said:

"I'm surprised how little we know about how people interact with this technology"

"We don't have any idea of the right things to do. We need more research about how people confront this technology, especially if the process goes wrong."

Rejman-Greene said little research has been done into how well equipment would bear up under constant use.

...so if I may make a suggestion here Mr Greene, why don't we test it first on one of our vulnerable groups in our society? - children.

Iron out any technical problems with them, and when we're done testing our children's "confrontation" to biometric technology the technology can then be introduced to the next generation...

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Building Schools for the Future - BSF.

The Government has a spending plan of £2.2 billion over 2005/6 to provide new and improved schools. The aim is to rebuild or renew every secondary school in England. Local Educational Authorities or Learning Authorities (LA's) are working with large companies to deliver the BSF programme.

ICT is an integral part of these schools, delivering learning, internet access, school management, reporting, etc...

Current BSF projects are incorporating biometrics in with this ICT for the usual canteen, library and registration processes.

Whilst I welcome to use of technology in schools in the aproppiate setting, having different systems with different forms of biometric data on e.g. fingerprint, iris scanning, palmprint, is a responsibility the school must take very seriously. Ensuring alternative technology for those children who not wish to participate with their biometrics must be incorporatedso no discrimination happens.

I know you cannot un-invent a technology, but it does seem that our children are the target population of introducing the notion of biometric exchange for access/information. There are serious concerns over adult biometric ID cards, given the Governments disastrous track record of database security and control so what assurances can we have that these schools systems are secure?

But as one of the most surveilled nations in the world I am at a loss as to why we are doing this to the next generation without X-file type conspiracy theories popping in my head!

Just nice to know we're not alone now - the USA is rolling out biometric technology in schools all over the country, with a few exceptions of some states - see my previous blog October 26th.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals

After emailing CILIP, Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals, over concerns on how...

a) Biometric data is collected from children with/without informed parental consent and confirm security of databases holding children's information.

b) Access to reports on reading habits on our youth by ethnicity, gender and age is made open to parents. Parents should be aware of who has access to their child's reading habits.

c) Learning resources and reading materials can be restricted in school libraries by age, gender ethnicity. From a leading schools library retailer's website:

"...we are able to provide detailed statistics and monitor use of the library by gender, year group, ethnicity and individual progress in numbers of books borrowed"

d) Children are not aware that their reading habits are monitored/reported on to a third party and that other people can see what they are reading/books /learning resources are taken out.

The Data Protection Act surely has implications here.

CILIP were very responsive initially passing my concerns on to the relevant person/s - but I have waited 2 months for their view on the above points.

Our children should grow up knowing that their reading habits are monitored and analysied (!?)

Saturday, October 28, 2006

New kid on the block - infrared palm scanning

Palm Printing ...

Well, it was going to happen, see link: http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1588142006id=1588142006

"Pupils at a Scots primary school have become the first in the world to pay for their lunches by having their palms scanned rather than by handing over cash. Biometric technology which allows them to be identified through their hands' unique vein patterns has been introduced at Todholm Primary in Paisley."

Amey the company behind the palm scanner, have a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) programme in Scotland with Glasgow City Council, the largest education partnership in Europe. Amey worked in conjunction with Yarg Biometrics and Fujitsu to develop this biometric technology.

From Yarg Biometrics homepage : "Unlike fingerprint biometrics it cannot be linked to any criminal records database and civil liberties issues are therefore not affected"
And from the Fujitsu site, near the bottom of the article: "Biometric solutions will increasingly allow us to move towards a cashless society and this project is one of the first real examples in the UK of an innovative and truly practical biometric solution in operation. I fully expect this to be the first of many similar implementations across Europe" said Mike Nelson, General Manager, Fujitsu Europe Limited.

(Fujitsu is also providing a managed service in a fifteen-year contract for a Unity City Academy in East Middlesbrough. The Unity City Academy is a charitable trust. Members of the board of the Trust represent Amey plc, amongst others).

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Laws in US prohibiting/restricting children's biometrics

I recently found two States in the US, Illinios and Iowa, tackling the issue of biometrics in schools.

I agree with both these bills. Having kept my eye on this issue over the past 18 months in the UK and abroad, and also having a little contact with people in the US as to how biometrics and other tracking technologies are progressing in the USA, these bills are heartening to see.

I just wonder how long it took to bring them in...who, why they were brought in. There is an increasing frequency in this technology being rolled out in the States. As it is rolled out over in the USA laws/bills are introduced to halt and question the technology used.

There is no doubt that this biometric technology will be a part of our children's lives in the future. Let us in the UK also err on the side of caution and look to other countries to see how they deal with this rapidly expanding technology and evaluate the costs and assess the impact of introducing biometrics to children as young as 3 years old in the UK.

IILINIOS
http://12.43.67.2/legislation/BillStatus.asp?DocNum=2549&GAID=8&DocTypeID=SB&LegId=23423&SessionID=50&GA=94 ...

"Synopsis As Introduced Amends the School Code. Provides that if a public school or school district collects biometric information from students, it may do so only with, at a minimum, written permission from (i) the individual who legally enrolled the student or (ii) the student, if he or she has reached the age of 18. Prohibits the school or school district from refusing any services otherwise available to the student for withholding permission. Sets forth conditions for collecting and using the information. Amends the State Mandates Act to require implementation without reimbursement by the State. Effective August 1, 2006."

IOWA
http://www.state.ia.us/educate/ootd/slu/doc/slu0507.doc
[update Feb 2007 - this above link is broken however this one details the below http://www.iowaccess.org/educate/ootd/slu/doc/slu0507.pdf ]
[update March 2007 - SF2086 - Iowa law ammended 2006 for biometrics to be accepted in schools with consent: http://coolice.legis.state.ia.us/Cool-ICE/default.asp?category=billinfo&service=billbook&GA=81&hbill=SF2086 ]

Page 2 of 6 details the Law quote:
1. Fingerprinting by School Districts Illegal (H.F. 685)
This bill prohibits the fingerprinting of a child under age 17 by a governmental unit (including school districts). While the bill does not define “fingerprinting,” the attorney for the Department of Public Safety advised this agency that digital finger scanning and/or mathematical algorithms of a child’s fingerprint “definitely” are considered to be fingerprinting.

There are a very few districts in Iowa that use a finger scan or finger code system for students to access school lunch, media recourses, etc. This bill appears to render use of these systems unlawful.

Consent by a parent or guardian will not help districts with such a system. The law does not allow a parent or guardian to consent to the use of a finger scan or finger code for a student for any school-related purposes. In fact, it specifically prohibits parental consent for anything except (1) to aid in specific criminal investigations, or (2) in case the child becomes a runaway or a missing child. And in the latter event, any prints taken must be given to the parents. None may be retained by the governmental unit.

Districts are advised to not use any type of finger scanning or algorithms of students until such time as the Department can work with legislators to see if the General Assembly is willing to give some relief to schools. However, any such enabling statutes are now a year away."

Friday, October 20, 2006

German research fools biometric systems

I recently found this in the LTKA website. It's research that was done in 2002 by the Fraunhofer Research Institute in collaboration with the German Federal Institute for Information Technology Security.

It is a lengthy article but worth reading. It details a variety of easy ways to fool biometric scanners and the simple ways that the systems could be hacked - see www.heise.de/ct/english/02/11/114/

A quote near the end of the article reads:

"With the aid of data packets gathered by eavesdropping and some lines of Perl script we were able to reconstruct complete fingerprints"

Clarification on whether the systems fooled are the ones used in UK schools URGENTLY needs checking. Thankfully my children's fingerprints aren't on any systems - what a relief!


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Children's biometrics on Teachers TV

MP's are speaking out against biometrics in schools.

Teachers' TV, a DfES sponsored television station (yet editorial independent of the Government), ran an article in their news this week http://www.teachers.tv/video/5093

The article, about 7 minutes into the clip runs for about 4 minutes (Teachers' TV can also be found on Sky Guide 880, Telewest 240, ntl 240, HomeChoice 845, Freeview 88 (11am-1pm)

The article airs concerns by MP's, a parent and Lawyer, Janinne Fletcher, on how and why children's biometrics are taken and stored on relatively insecure computer systems.

Considering these systems have been in schools for over three years and nearly a million children fingerprinted in the UK, it is not before time that this issue needs to be debated in Parliament.

Guidelines and regulations clearly need to be issued to educational establishments so that all parties - parents, children and schools - are aware of how and when biometric data is taken from a child (with parental consent) and aware of laws that secure and protect the next generations biometric information.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Things moving ahead

My primary aim for this blog is to highlight schools taking biometric information from pupils often without parental consent and in most cases without parents even knowing.

My two children would have had their biometric information taken off them without my consent had I not have spotted the fingerprint scanner in the library. I have to add that the school they are at were not aware of how taking this information off pupils could possibly have contravened several laws. Having said that there has yet to be a case testing the law from a parent whose child has been fingerprinted without consent - however this may soon change.

There are many issues that arise around biometrics in schools:
  • Children civil liberties - is it okay to give the message to children that biometrics is part of daily life to access books, learning resources, food and areas of establishments?
  • These systems can general reports by age, gender & ethnicity - who read these reports?
  • The security of the computers biometric details are stored on.
  • Who has access to their biometric information?
  • The thousands of pounds spent on these systems, I feel, could be better spent elsewhere in education.
A number of parents from across the country are in touch with each other and I think the general consensus is initially to obtain parental consent before biometric data is taken from a child. My aim is to change the law to regulate who and how children's biometrics are taken and used. So biometrics are mentioned specifically and there can be no doubt as to how the law is applied where children's biometrics are concerned.

The Children's Act, Human Rights Act, Education Act, the Convention on the Rights of the child and Data protection Act could all be brought into play in this matter - however I am no lawyer so as and when a parent/s challenge this it will be ground breaking stuff as these Acts will be challenged in an area yet to be explored in law.

http://www.leavethemkidsalone.com is great for more information and links and the ARCH website http://www.arch-ed.org/ is where I first learnt about biometrics in schools. The Arch website has a lot more information with regards to children's rights... a lot going on with our children really, that we parents need to be aware of!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

My first Blog!

I've arrived in Blog world and can post my thoughts and meanderings out in cyberspace for all to see. Wow... well now I'm here I seem to have got all tongue tied... (and need to collect children from school) so will sign off and go and view this, my first blog!