MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Thu 09-Jan-14 13:53:14

Fingerprinting pupils in schools teaches children they have no right to privacy

According to new research by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, 40% of schools are using biometric technology to track their pupils - and 31% of them did not consult parents before doing so.

Here, deputy director Emma Carr argues that schools should be much more transparent about the surveillance systems they use - and that they have a duty to educate their pupils about their right to privacy.

Read the post, and tell us what you think: were you aware that some schools are fingerprinting their pupils without parental consent - and if so, are you concerned?

Emma Carr

Deputy Director, Big Brother Watch

Posted on: Thu 09-Jan-14 13:53:14

(60 comments )

Lead photo

40% of schools are using biometric technology, according to Big Brother Watch

How would you feel if your child returned home from school and told you that they had just been fingerprinted?

If this has already happened in your family, you’re not alone. New research from Big Brother Watch has found that more than one million children, in approximately 40% of schools, have been fingerprinted in a single academic year - part of an increasing trend towards using biometric technology as a means of identification when buying school lunches, registering attendance or issuing library books.

So what’s the problem? Well, approximately 31% weren’t consulted or asked to give consent for this to happen to their child.

The new research follows the 2012 reportThe Class of 1984,which highlighted the fact that there are more than 100,000 CCTV cameras in Britain and that - shockingly - more than two hundred schools are using cameras inside bathrooms and changing rooms.

For some parents, the use of biometrics within schools will be a perfectly acceptable use of resources and technology - part of the trend towards the use of increasingly sophisticated technology in the classroom. Others, though, will be profoundly uncomfortable that their child has been asked to part with personal, identifiable, simply in order to ease the administrative process. Wouldn’t you like the opportunity to make the call?

Going to school should not mean that children are taught that they have no right to privacy - especially at a time when we are sharing more data about ourselves than ever before. On the contrary: schools arguably have a responsibility to fully explain issues like data protection, privacy, fraud and the use of biometrics as part of the education process.


Fingerprinting children and tracking their movements and activities might save some admin work - but the risk is that pupils begin to believe that it’s ‘normal’ to be constantly tracked. Going to school should not mean that children are taught that they have no right to privacy - especially at a time when we are sharing more data about ourselves than ever before. On the contrary: schools arguably have a responsibility to fully explain issues like data protection, privacy, fraud and the use of biometrics as part of the education process. Many schools, however, appear to be failing to fully educate pupils about these increasingly important topics.

Schools need to be transparent about what data they collect and how it is used, but for many schools this is far from standard practice. This research was carried out after a spike in complaints from concerned parents who had either been provided with a vague letter, or had received no information at all, about plans to fingerprint their child. Giving consent, for many, simply did not come into the equation. In some cases, those that protested, or questioned the motivation for using the technology received a rough ride from school administrators.

It is this confusion about what information parents should have received from school and whether consent should have been sought that provoked the Government to pass the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which came into effect in September 2013. This legislation has created an clear legal framework which states that parents and pupils have a legal guarantee that no fingerprints should be taken without the school gaining explicit consent (written from parents and oral from pupils) - and that an alternative must be made available if they did not wish to participate.

The full extent of school surveillance is far higher than most people would expect, and will come as a shock to many parents. Schools need to come clean about the surveillance systems they use - and local authorities need to be doing far more to reign in excessive surveillance in their areas, and to ensure that resources are not being diverted from more effective alternatives.

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

By Emma Carr

Twitter: @bbw1984

ReallyTired Thu 09-Jan-14 14:02:27

Complete storm in a teacup. I wish that my son's school used biometric finger printing. Chidlren don't tend to lose their thumbs and stops bullies from taking their lunch money. I am in favour of CCTV cameras because it helps to prevent bullying and protects teachers against false allegations.

Areas like bathrooms or changing rooms are places where sexual abuse is more likely to happen. Generally staff do not watch videos from these areas unless there is an allegation because they aren't perverts.

I worked in a school which put up CCTV cameras in bully hot spots so that these areas could be watched from reception.

All the schools in my area which use biometric finger printing get parental permisssion. Most parents realise that these systems are to there to help their children.

MrsSquirrel Thu 09-Jan-14 14:17:27

I agree, it's a storm in a teacup. The school collects all kinds of identifying information about pupils. I don't think this is 'surveillance' any more than any of the information the school holds about my dc. All of it is personal and some is sensitive information: religion, nationality, medical conditions, CAT scores and so forth. They are doing it for a legitimate purpose.

Schools do 'track' pupils all the time. Why else would you have registration? They need to know if they are in school. If dc are not in lessons when they should be, I would hope the school tries to find out where they are and why.

CalamitouslyWrong Thu 09-Jan-14 14:28:07

I agree that this is all a bit hyperbolic. DS1's middle school used fingerprints for the dinner money system (and nothing else). His high school doesn't, so now we have to give him dinner money every day (rather than paying by the term). It's a pain in the arse, especially as he can't be trusted not to lose it (he has serious organisation issues).

Ds2's tiny school lets us pay by the term but doesn't need fingerprinting because it's so small that they can keep track of who has paid for dinners or not. That's not so easy when there are 350+ in every year.

In any case, school have been about surveillance for over a century. The entire system is set up to monitor and 'improve' the population. Children are constantly monitored in various ways the entire time they're at school, and they're taught to internalise the monitoring so that they monitor themselves and their peers. Just because there's some new technology involved in this doesn't make it any different.

AugustRose Thu 09-Jan-14 14:50:23

I don't agree with fingerprinting at all. I understand that information is collected on our children throughout their time at school but I think fingerprinting is a step too far.

When my DD1 started secondary in September we were told they used biometric information but had to consent - we declined. However, my DS1 (17) who moved to that school in year 10 had been fingerprinted without my knowledge. It's not so much the school keeping track (they use it for the library) that bothers me, it's the private companies providing the software and therefore having access to that information.

As far as I can see it is unecessary.

snice Thu 09-Jan-14 15:05:00

I understood that this isnt a full fingerprint in the police 'take your fingerprint' sense anyway-more a set of markers.

I have no problem with it and can see the benefits with regard to cashless catering-no more dinner money to lose/spend after school at the newsagents

Another person saying storm in a teacup

WaitingForPeterWimsey Thu 09-Jan-14 15:36:03

I would be very upset if my child's prints were taken and find the CCTV very invasive hmm

Reincarnatedpig Thu 09-Jan-14 16:37:41

I am happy they use fingerprint or more accurately thumbprint only at DD2's school. I can't count the number of lost lunch (£5) cards and library cards etc. As for CCTV yes it is invasive but as there has been a serious sexual assault at a local school as well as bullying and other violence, I deem it necessary.

JimmyCorkhill Thu 09-Jan-14 16:42:57

I didn't understand the problem with this but my DP is a computer boffin and he said that in the future our fingerprints will be used to access a lot of our private data, instead of PINs and passwords. So by giving your fingerprint, either willingly or not, to the school means that your security (fingerprint password) is already 'out there'. This compromises your future security as you can't change your fingerprint like you can a password or PIN.

If anyone wants to dispute this feel free as I was only half listening to him when he explained it to me blush

I couldn't possibly get excited about this.
The system allows a very efficient way of paying for school meals. No more cash, no remembering to write a cheque and so on.
CCTV in out of the way corners - absolutely. It has worked as a real deterrent to bad behaviour at DS2s school and when it doesn't deter it helps staff to see what went on.
There is nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.

WaitingForPeterWimsey Thu 09-Jan-14 16:51:41

Reincarn, there have been assaults in private houses too. Would you think it was ok for the government to install CCTV in your living room??

stooshe Thu 09-Jan-14 17:05:15

I'm glad I was born when I was. Also glad that my daughter is grown. As for "nothing to fear if nothing to hide", that has to be the most nonsensical saying to justify anything on the face of the earth. With a quick scratch, any fool could argue that saying out of town, as it doesn't make sense and just sounds cute.
I best try and grow my afro hair into some kind of forelock. I'm gonna need to work out how to tug it very, very soon.

Reincarnatedpig Thu 09-Jan-14 17:16:19

WaitingforP - the assault involved a girl being physically dragged into the boys toilets and forced to perform a sex act. The only evidence was CCTV which clearly showed that the incident was not consensual.

At DD2's school which is new build, most walls are glass and the toilets are cubicles in an open plan area (with floor to ceiling doors and walls). The school say there is no hiding place and I for one am grateful. The school was notorious for assaults and bullying in the past.

ChunkyPickle Thu 09-Jan-14 17:24:19

It's not your fingerprint, as in police taking your prints - all that's stored is a kind of shorthand for your print - you couldn't take that shorthand and get a picture of the fingerprint back.

You leave your actual fingerprints lying around everywhere every day - this is no more dangerous than taking a signature in my opinion.

Besides, even if it was a full fingerprint, it seems to me that rather than being incriminating, it would introduce so much more doubt that a fingerprint was actually left by you, since your prints would be out there in the wild and easy to duplicate.

vestandknickers Thu 09-Jan-14 18:07:49

Such a non issue. Schools only use fingerprints for things like school dinners or issuing books. They are not using it to track children or to be brother-ish. The school would know who'd eaten a hot dinner or borrowed library book anyway, the fingerprinting just makes the process more efficient.

It has nothing to do with privacy (or lack of it) and everything to do with embracing new technology to make schools more efficient.

I haven't got a clue whether it is used in my children's schools and really couldn't care less. I trust the school to use whichever systems they feel are fit for purpose.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee Thu 09-Jan-14 18:12:37

Don't be sp blooming stupid.

TalkinPeace Thu 09-Jan-14 18:20:44

MNHQ
why did you let such daft paranoia become the blog spot?
this "issue" has been chewed over many times on the Education Boards.
They do NOT take your fingerprint
it is NOT possible to identify somebody from the numbers the school stores
and I'd much rather the finger system that the bullying and theft that went with cash thank you very much

vestandknickers Thu 09-Jan-14 18:22:16

Well said talkin. This ill-informed nonsense should not be on the blog spot.

Reincarnatedpig Thu 09-Jan-14 18:23:10

I don't necessarily trust the school but overall it's not a big deal. I suppose in traditional societies there is no such thing as privacy a lot of the time.

I am a civil servant and can lay my hands on all sorts of private financial and personal information about people in minutes for example that banks or various other local or national govt organisations share. Unfortunately it is necessary to do my job.

Anyone can post on social media in seconds -
that is much more of a threat to children's privacy in my opinion.

Willemdefoeismine Thu 09-Jan-14 18:32:40

We did have to fill in a consent form before DS started at his super-selective....I seem to recall the bottom line is that the fingerprint record will be destroyed when he leaves the school.

I'm not really sure what I feel about it....I think the children seem less put-out by the civil liberties issues than we parents...but I guess that's because they don't see the wider picture....

MoreBeta Thu 09-Jan-14 18:34:32

We declined our children having fingers and thumbs scanned may years ago in school. We talk to them again last week when this story broke.

Its the conditioning of children that they have no right to privacy that bothers me. Our children need to know they can say 'no' to have personal data taken by someone in authority.

Reincarnatedpig Thu 09-Jan-14 18:46:05

I had to provide a picture of my DDs and a copy of her birth cert or passport when they started school plus "personal" details of my own such as my phone numbers etc. I do not think that a thumb print is any different from a signature which both me and DD's had to provide (signed school behaviour agreement).

isitsnowingyet Thu 09-Jan-14 19:37:33

Purleese - stupid stupid stupid people - they have this in my DS's school and I have no problem with it at all. Why would I? Try to worry about something worth worrying about

Dromedary Thu 09-Jan-14 20:14:12

ReallyTired says "Areas like bathrooms or changing rooms are places where sexual abuse is more likely to happen. Generally staff do not watch videos from these areas unless there is an allegation because they aren't perverts."

Believe it or not some staff are perverts. Why would teachers happen to be a group that includes no perverts? That statement has certainly been disproved plenty of times. There are supposed to be security measures around access to CCTV, but you can't rely on them being in place and working.

There was a recent incident in the press about a university where staff with access to CCTV footage posted online footage of some students having sex. There's plenty of room for abuse of CCTV.

mythbustinggov Thu 09-Jan-14 20:41:18

This ludicrous scaremongering blog is totally wrong. (I've set up an ID and signed in as it's made me so cross). I am both a senior secondary school governor and an IT Director and was involved in overseeing the introduction of a biometric system into our 1,400 student secondary school. None of the biometric systems store any biometric data - no child is fingerprinted. How they work is to use the fingerprint like a barcode - scanning it generates a unique number using the curves at several different points. All that's stored is the number against the student. It is simply not possible to reconstruct the fingerprint from the stored number - there's not enough information.

I was very concerned when the system was proposed, so (unlike the blog's author) I researched this in detail. NO FINGERPRINTS ARE TAKEN.

MNHQ should remove this blog immediately, it's factually wrong and scaremongering.

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