Read on for a Yorkshire Post article:
Primary schools fingerprinting children as young as five
Inquiry is urged over 'Big Brother' in the classroom
CHILDREN as young as five are among thousands of youngsters across Yorkshire who are having their fingerprints taken at school.
Primary and secondary schools in the region are beginning to collect biometric details from their pupils at alarming rates – in many cases breaking Government guidelines by not first asking for parental permission.
And campaigners, who insist the technology is an erosion of civil liberties and yet another step towards a "Big Brother" state, claim the greatest problem is that no one knows the true extent of the spread of such systems, because no authority or Government department has bothered to monitor it.
The Yorkshire Post has found at least 18 schools in Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire using fingerprint identification systems, but there were claims last night that they are the tip of the iceberg and the true figure is likely to be well over a hundred in this region alone.
And mounting concern led the Information Commissioner's Office to reveal last night that it would soon publish new guidance for schools.
A spokeswoman said: "We would expect schools to take a sensible approach to fingerprinting. They should have effective safeguards in place to ensure that the information they collect is kept to a minimum, is held securely and is deleted when a child leaves.
"However, we advise any parents who have concerns that their child's privacy is being unduly intruded on and who are not allowed to opt out of fingerprinting to contact the Information Commissioner's Office."
Only a handful of the region's 15 local education authorities (LEAs) had any idea of how many such systems were operating in their areas and some wrongly believed none were in use at all.
Primary schools are the main users, where thumbprints have replaced library cards to withdraw books.
But one North Yorkshire secondary school has extended fingerprint identification to morning registration, a move that leaves parents little scope to object, despite the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) stressing that parental consent should be gained.
Growing parental concern coincides with similar fears over the Government's planned £224m "Children's Index". It is due to be introduced in 2008 following the report into the death in 2000 of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie, and link sensitive information in one database accessible to hundreds of thousands of officials.
David Clouter, who founded lobby group http://leavethemkidsalone.com/ last month to raise awareness of fingerprinting in schools and is compiling a list of where it is happening, said: "I was appalled when it happened at my daughter's school.
"There is a growing pattern out there and yet we're told there's no information available. So we're trying to find every single one ourselves," adding that it was an "outrage" that the DfES remained ignorant of the use of the systems when it had authorised schools to use Government e-learning credits to buy them.
Yorkshire Euro-MP Godfrey Bloom, who has written to every LEA in Yorkshire asking them to investigate, urged parents to find out for themselves whether their children's schools were operating biometric schemes without their knowledge.
The UK Independence Party politician said: "We really have reached a low when we are fingerprinting children at primary schools without their parents' permission. I want to know why it is being done and how widespread this is."
A DfES spokesman said the Government felt there were no dangers with such systems, stressing: "It's up to individual schools to decide if they want to implement them."
But he suggested there may be a significant gap between the Government's expectations of what schools should do and what is actually happening. "They should get legal advice from their LEA and get consent from parents," he added.
Bradford Council said 10 of its primary schools used the technology for library loans.
But they seemed unaware that state-funded Ilkley Grammar School also used biometrics to check on payments for school trips.
Kirklees and North Lincolnshire councils each confirmed systems in one school and Hull used them in two.
North Yorkshire was unaware of any, despite the King James School in Knaresborough and the Ryedale School in Nawton using them.
Most of the regions remaining LEAs, including Leeds and Sheffield, said they were unaware of biometrics in use in their schools. Only Barnsley could report with conviction that they were not in use in their area.
01 September 2006