Iris-scanning - one example of biometrics used in schools
On the other hand, the rush to biometrics seems to result, at least in part, from the heavy influence of security companies. Systems installed in Loughborough (Leicestershire) are being pushed in by ex-Loughborough grammar boy Mark McMorran, who runs Cyclone Industries. Their fingerprinting system ‘Live Register’ is being used for attendance and managing school dinners. It has been installed at the grammar school and Humphrey Perkins High School in Barrow-on-Soar (Leics). According to the company, around 200 schools across the country had expressed an interest in the scanners.
In 2004 a Cambridgeshire secondary school, Impington Village College, was thought to be the first state school in the UK to use fingertip-recognition registration system for pupils. Class teachers watch children arrive and check that each fingertip scan has been logged. If a pupil fails to register, repeated email and text messages are automatically sent to the parents' computers and mobile phones. According to the local BBC, Cambridgeshire County Council was monitoring the trial to see if the system could be introduced in other schools. This now seems to have happened, judging by protests by parents at St. Matthew’s primary school. At primary schools, children who are too young to place their fingers on scanners are being helped to do so by school staff.
Toot Hill school in Bingham, Nottinghamshire, have apparently been using a biometric system in their Learning Resource Centre “for years”. LRC Manager Mrs Litherland, proudly reported in their Xmas 2005 bulletin that, “The LRC does not use a dated library card system but is fortunate to have a fingerprint reader, which recognises students by their thumb print; this system enables a faster loan service when issuing stock to students.” But we also hear that, “Once a student leaves school their record is deleted from the LRC database” and that “All users have the option not to be fingerprinted but found manually.” A result of student complaints perhaps? Or at least a recognition that there might be a problem with such a wonderfully efficient system.
Another factor in the rise of biometrics is the idea that schools need to see what children are eating at lunch to make sure they are getting proper nutrition. This was the main justification for one of the Loughborough schools. It’s great if some schools are managing to cook fresh food again rather than rely on heated-up rubbish from mass catering outfits like Scolarest, but why do we suddenly need fingerprinting? It just doesn’t follow. Then we hear it’s about cashless school dinners so children don’t get robbed of their dinner money, or so there is no ‘free school meals’ stigma for those without, or the nutrition argument is rephrased so it is about fighting obesity. It seems like someone is coming up with any number of reasons to introduce the new technologies - security companies looking for any ways they can to sell their kit, perhaps?
In another example, the Venerable Bead Secondary School in Sunderland won a 2005 Computing Award ‘Public Sector Project of the Year’. Amongst the fancy technologies they were using was iris-scanning school dinners and finger-printing for library books. Again, it’s perhaps not surprising that computer industry is so pleased to acknowledge any high-tech installation that will ensure their continued existence after the IT stock-market bubble burst that destroyed many companies and ruined the profit of the ones that did survive.
The industry buzz-phrase to counter any privacy concerns is that “children’s fingerprint images are not stored, only a numerical code”. But hang on, aren’t codes generated from points on your fingerprint going to become as personal as the fingerprint itself, especially if the code is produced according to a national or international standard? The same for passports - it’s no less invasive if they store some code for the distances between your eyes/nose/ears instead of a photo of your face.
Some school students are starting to organise their own campaigns. At Edgbarrow school in Crowthorne, Berkshire, six formers have criticised plans to pilot a fingerprint registration scheme in September. Sixthformer Shaun Woodage, 17, said “clocking in and out” at each end of the day would make him and his friends feel like criminals. “The lack of trust and respect from the school to the students seems to be apparent. We have the right to hold on to our own biometrics and have the right to say who we shall disclose them to.”
Headteachers and other teachers who are wowed by these new technologies need to be challenged. Many people already see schools as places where our children learn conformity, and so understand that biometrics in schools are a way of conditioning them for ID cards and a lifetime of being tracked by the authorities and future employers. A new website Leave Them Kids Alone has been set up as part of a campaign to counter the expansion of fingerprinting in schools and show that thousands of noddy biometric systems are being installed across the country.
Sources, including pictures of children being fingerprinted and iris-scanned:
Children Act 2004: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/acts/acts2004/20040031.htm
Library books: http://education.guardian.co.uk/elearning/story/0,10577,1387226,00.html
School dinners (finger-printing): http://www.biometrictracking.com/PressArtcle3.php
School dinners (iris scanning): http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/wear/3056162.stm
School dinners (‘fat fighting’): http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,8122-2224837,00.html
Attendance Registers: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/cambridgeshire/4056829.stm
Attendance Registers (sixth form protests) http://education.guardian.co.uk/schools/story/0,,1821128,00.html
Learning Resource Centre: http://www.toothill.notts.sch.uk/data/contact/contact1205.pdf
Leave Them Kids Alone (against fingerprinting in schools): http://www.leavethemkidsalone.com
Indymedia - Fingerprinting School Children: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/07/344228.html
Indymedia - Fingerprinting at primary school libraries!: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2006/06/342355.html
Defending Anonymity (Anarchist Federation pamphlet): http://www.afed.org.uk
Defy-ID (National network opposing ID): http://www.defy-id.org.uk