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Warning Issued Over Mass Fingerprinting Of School Children

Biometric information mandated from pupils without parents’ knowledge or consent

Warning Issued Over Mass Fingerprinting Of School Children 151210fingerprints
Photograph: Wikimedia commons, for illustrative purposes only

Steve Watson
Wednesday, Dec 15th, 2010

The European Commission has warned that children in British schools are being mandated to submit their biometric information and being issued with “unique pupil numbers” with no oversight whatsoever.

The Commission has asked the British government to justify the practice of taking children’s fingerprints, which has become commonplace in schools all over the country.

The overriding concern, says the Commission, is that parents are not being allowed legal redress, and that the process violates European privacy laws.

“We should be obliged if you could provide us with additional information both regarding the processing of the biometric data of minors in schools, with particular reference to the proportionality and necessity in the light of the legitimate aims sought to be achieved, and the issue concerning the availability of judicial redress,” says a letter from the Commission acquired by The London Telegraph.

“There are significant concerns that the compulsory fingerprinting of children for these purposes is against the EU data protection directive,” said a commission official.

In 2007, documents released under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that the British government had long been engaged in a back door program to collect the fingerprints of children in schools all over the country, in the majority of cases without the knowledge of parents.

The data suggested that a further 4.9 million sets of prints would be taken after the vast majority of local education authorities sanctioned the practice.

Then earlier this year it was revealed that one in three secondary schools in the UK is now forcing children to swipe their fingerprints just to register in class, get their lunch or take out library books.

A North London school was revealed to have literally “frogmarched” pupils to get their prints taken and was forced to apologise after irate parents complained that they had not been consulted on the matter at all.

In one case, a man in Scotland was refused permission to bring the matter to court, and was informed by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office that schools do not require parental permission to fingerprint pupils.

After the general election in May, the incoming Education Secretary Michael Grove pledged to ban schools from fingerprinting pupils unless they first sought and obtained explicit parental permission. However, the practice continues unobstructed.

There are also no specific British laws governing the recording of other biometric information such as iris scans.

It is often the case that EU interference in sovereign British law is seen as extremely unwelcome, yet in this case worried parents and teachers have expressed support:

“I believe the fingerprinting of children is a totally unnecessary infringement of civil liberties,” he said. “The legal situation must be looked at. This is being done surreptitiously without parents being told.” said Hank Roberts, member of the executive of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Critics say it is part of a ‘softening-up’ exercise to condition children to accept a creeping surveillance society. They also point to the danger of identity theft, if hackers manage to access school databases.

“This is an abrogation of moral duty. Schools should be teaching children to look after their biometric information.” Phil Booth, of the NO2ID campaign has said.

“They are going to grow up in a world where keeping it secure is enormously important, yet they are being taught that it is OK to hand it over for the most trivial of matters. It is a disgrace.”


Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor at Alex Jones’, and regular contributor to He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.

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