The use of biometrics in schools is a hot-button issue, and one that raises significant concerns over the privacy and civil rights of young people. When conducted without the express consent of students – and more importantly their parents and guardians – the results can be disastrous. Just ask the folks at the Polk County School District.
It is being reported now that a number of schools in the UK failed to heed this warning, having used biometric recognition systems to collect the fingerprints of some 800,000 students between 2012 and 2013. As revealed in an RT report, Big Brother Watch – a watchdog and civil liberties agency – conducted its own investigation, finding that at 31% of the schools children were encouraged to provide their fingerprints without prior parental consent.
These biometric systems are primarily used to pay for school lunches but also can be used in the library and in other applications around the school.
Big Brother Watch filed Freedom of Information Requests with over 3,000 schools across the UK – 1,255 of which actually replied – and discovered that 40% of schools are using some form of biometric technology with its students. Broken down further, these figures suggest that as many as 866,000 school children have had their fingerprints recorded between 2012 and 2013 alone, with the overall figure reaching an estimated 1.28 million students to date.
In 2012, the UK instituted a clause in the Protection of Freedoms Act, ordering a legal guarantee to parents and guardians that their permission would be sought prior to the collection of any biometric data from their child. Big Brother Watch is adamant that in not seeking the permission of parents or guardians, the collection of biometric data could further distort British youth’s perception of their right to privacy.
Per Big Brother Watch’s website, the guidelines for schools using biometric recognition systems – regardless of the modality – under the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 are as follows:
- For all pupils in schools and colleges under the age of 18, schools must obtain the written consent of a parent before they obtain and process their child’s biometric data.
- Schools must treat the data with appropriate care and must comply with data protection principles as set out in the Data Protection Act of 1998.
- Schools must provide alternative means for accessing services where a parent or pupil has refused consent.
The use of biometrics in schools has risen dramatically, and the trend will likely continue. In the meantime, Big Brother Watch is keeping tabs on the biometric enrollment of students. For more, see Big Brother Watch’s “Biometrics in Schools” report.