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Anger over York schools that fingerprint their five-year-olds

York Press | January 9, 2007
Gavin Aitchison

THOUSANDS of children in York are being fingerprinted by their schools, including one without parents' knowledge, The Press can reveal today.

Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act show 11 schools in the city are using personal biometric data to identify pupils, but one said today they had suspended the practice, after a local politician voiced concerns.

Human rights campaigners have reacted angrily to the news, saying the fingerprinting was unnecessary and an invasion of privacy, and questioning its safety.

They said children were being "conditioned" into thinking it were normal to have to divulge personal information.

But Chris Bridge, head teacher at Huntington Secondary, said the system was preparing pupils for a world in which terrorism was rife, and their privacy would be further invaded.

He said: "These children, frankly, are growing up in a world where identity and being certain about your own identity is increasingly important.

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"All the measures to do with ID cards will possibly invade their privacy even further, but the world has no answer to terrorism without using these things and I would see us as getting them ready for the world in which they will have to live."

Schools also said the technology was safe, pupils enjoyed it, and parents had only rarely complained.

The information released by City of York Council shows seven primary and four secondary schools employ library systems that use fingerprint recognition.

The schools are: Archbishop Holgate CE, Huntington Secondary, Joseph Rowntree Secondary, Manor CE, Archbishop of York's Junior, Clifton Green Primary, Knavesmire Primary, St Lawrence's CE Primary, St Wilfrid's RC Primary, Stockton-on-the-Forest Primary and Yearsley Grove Primary. They have a combined roll of about 6,000.

Sheila Audsley, head at Clifton Green, said they stopped using the system, after MEP Godfrey Bloom raised concerns over civil liberties.

All the schools apart from Manor CE informed parents in advance of taking youngsters' prints.

Manor's head, Brian Crosby, said pupils themselves had recommended the system, and it had been introduced before any concerns came to light.

Human rights group Privacy International slammed the practice, which they said was happening in many schools throughout Britain.

Gus Hosein, a senior fellow at Privacy International, said: "This is the only country in the world that has done this. In every other country in the world, the idea of fingerprinting people is opposed, and the idea of fingerprinting children is abhorrent."

He added: "We are telling kids it is okay to get fingerprinted. They are getting to them while they are young. It does not make sense.

"We were all so shocked when America started fingerprinting foreigners, yet all along we were fingerprinting kids."

Mr Hosein said up to 700,000 children across Britain may have been fingerprinted at school, and added: "Bring this out in to the spotlight. Let's see the politicians stand up and say why this is a good idea, and why we need it. Let's have an open and full debate."

Phil Booth, national co-ordinator of campaign group NO2ID said: "Young kids are being essentially, conditioned to accept that being fingerprinted is a normal, everyday thing, which is worrying and it undervalues what is, and could be, a potentially secure technology when you are doing it for trivial things like taking a book out of a school library."

He added: "It's deeply concerning again that they are accumulating huge amounts of data that seems to be unnecessary."

 

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