UK Schools Take 800,000 Child Fingerprints Without Parent Permission

A watchdog has found that schools in the United Kingdom used biometric technology to gather the fingerprints of over 800,000 pupils between 2012 and 2013.

40% of schools are using biometric technology on pupils as found by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch which filed Freedom of Information Requests to over 3,000 schools across the UK. The rights groups, based on response figures, estimated that as many as 866,000 school children were coerced into having their fingerprints recorded in 2012-13.

"As we are now one term into the 2013-14 academic year, and expect the number of schools using the technology to have increased over the summer, and the secondary school population now above 3.2 million, if the number of secondary schools using biometric technology increased from 25% to 30%, more than one million children would be fingerprinted," Big Brother Watch report says.

The study found that in 31% of cases parental consent had not been sought by the school. With 92 schools admitting to have gathered fingerprints from students, the South East of England is where biometric technology was found to be most commonly used. The Department for Education keeps no record of the number of schools using biometric technologies, nor does it collate whether parents have provided their consent as the report noted. Big Brother Watch is the first institution to collate this data.

According to RT Network, in 2012, the UK introduced a clause in the Protection of Freedoms Act stipulating a legal guarantee to parents that their permission would be sought before biometric data is taken from a child. The fact that children's parents are not being consulted is distorting British youth's perception of their right to privacy, Big Brother Watch maintains.

"We continue to be concerned that the use of biometric technologies threatens the development of a sense of privacy as young people develop, while also creating greater opportunities to track an individual pupil's activity across multiple areas, from the library books they take out to the food they eat," the report says.

Safeguards are put in place to ensure that the data gathered is deleted once the children finish school as the report recommends. In addition, it states that awareness of children's right to refuse to have their biometric data recorded by schools must be given to them.

"I think it's really necessary for schools to be transparent, especially when it's relating to very sensitive personal information," Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, told RT's Laura Smith.

To correct the oversights the report had highlighted and provide a "legal guarantee to parents", Carr said the law needed to be "updated".

According to Big Brother Watch, the rules for schools and colleges that use biometric recognition systems, such as fingerprint identification and facial scanning, under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, now state that:

  • 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.
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