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3,500 schools now use finger print scanners in 'Big Brother state by stealth'

London Evening Standard | February 9, 2007

As many as 3,500 schools are taking fingerprints from pupils, often without their parents' permission, a new poll revealed yesterday.

Soaring numbers require pupils to undergo biometric identity checks before they can register in the mornings, buy canteen meals and use the library.

But the trend has prompted furious complaints from parents who are concerned their children's data will be stored on insecure databases.

Under current laws, schools do not have to seek parental consent before taking pupils' fingerprints, although they should notify them.

In an attempt to ease parental worries, schools are soon to be issued with new guidance urging them to gain permission as it is "best practice".

But campaigners claim the move does not go far enough and are demanding a change in the law to abolish biometric scanners completely from school premises.

While the Department for Education and Skills says it is unaware how many schools are using biometric data, an internet poll by a lobby group is now claiming 3,500 schools have bought the necessary equipment.

The Leave Them Kids Alone group said the schools had purchased the technology from two DfES-approved suppliers, suggesting the true figure could be even higher.

The collection of children's fingerprints has also raised fears that children could become accustomed to giving out data about themselves, losing even more of their privacy.

"We're talking about social conditioning. In a school environment it will make kids less concerned about their biometric data" said Phil Booth, of the anti-identity card campaign group No2ID.

Meanwhile technology experts warned that youngsters would be compromised for the rest of their lives if biometric data fell into the wrong hands.

While storage systems may appear secure, advances in technology may render them in future, warned Andrew Clymer, who has campaigned to keep biometrics out of schools.

Unlike compromised PIN numbers which can swiftly be changed, stolen fingerprint data will be in existence for life.

"Security is always developed with a timeframe, but biometric data is for a lifetime" said Mr Clymer.

"We would potentially be opening up the possibility that in the future kids will have their identities stolen."

The warnings came as Lib Dem schools spokesman Greg Mulholland stepped up his campaign for parental consent to become a requirement for the collection of biometric data.

Some 47 MPs have signed a Commons motion tabled by Mr Mulholland.

New guidance to schools due to be published next month by the British Educational and Communications Technology Agency, following consultation with the privacy watchdog, is expected to "encourage" schools to gain consent.

A spokesman for the Information Commissioner told BBC News Online: "Because this is a fairly sensitive area - because young people are going to be sharing their personal information - we are encouraging schools to adopt best practice and seek the consent of both pupil and parent."

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