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UK schools fingerprinted over 800K children, third without parental consent - watchdog

Published time: January 11, 2014 17:05
Edited time: January 12, 2014 21:03

AFP Photo/Johan Ordonez

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​Schools in the UK used biometric technology to gather the fingerprints of over 800,000 pupils between 2012 and 2013, a watchdog has found. In 31 percent of schools, children were roped into giving their fingerprints without parental consent.

Civil liberties group, Big Brother Watch, filed Freedom of Information Requests to over 3,000 schools across the UK and found that 40 percent of schools are using biometrical technology on pupils. Only 1,255 schools responded.

Based on the figures, the rights groups 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.

More worryingly, the study found that in 31 percent of cases parental consent had not been sought by the school. Biometric technology was found to be most commonly used in the South East of England, with 92 schools admitting to have gathered fingerprints from students.

The report noted that 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. In this way, the Big Brother Watch is the first institution to collate this data.

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

“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.

The report recommends that safeguards are put in place to ensure that the data gathered is deleted once the children finish school. Moreover, it says that children must be made aware of their right to refuse to have their biometric data recorded by schools.

“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.

Carr said the law needed to be “updated” to cater for the oversights the report had highlighted and provide a “legal guarantee to parents.”