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Tuesday, 23 July, 2002, 17:04 GMT 18:04 UK
Schools in fingerprinting row
finger printing
Prints are said to make libraries more efficient
Tens of thousands of children are being fingerprinted in school - often without the consent of their parents, a human rights group has complained.

Prints are taken for a library lending system which the makers say makes lending more efficient and less vulnerable to abuse.

But the pressure group Privacy International says the practice is illegal and breaches the human right to privacy.

Dangerous

One of the makers of the technology, Micro Librarian Systems (MLS), say they have sold about 1,000 systems to schools in the UK and abroad.

One mother from London told BBC News Online she was horrified when her son came home and told her he had been finger-printed at his primary school.

She said: "I consider that this was an infringement of my son's civil rights and a breach of trust on the part of the school.

"This should not have been done at all, and certainly not without our consent, or indeed knowledge.

"If my child had been arrested, I believe the police would not have a right to take fingerprints without our consent and access to a solicitor."

She said the new system may have been mentioned in a newsletter when her son was off sick, but she was never asked for consent.

The school has now removed her son's details from the system and says it will respect the wishes of other parents who want it to do the same.

Simon Davies, of the campaign group Privacy International says the practice of finger-printing children in this way is "dangerous, illegal and unnecessary".

He says the use of the technology should be banned in schools.

"It de-humanises our children and degrades their human rights," he said.

"Such a process has the effect of softening children up for such initiatives as ID cards and DNA testing.

"It's clearly a case of 'get them while they're young'.

"They are seen as a soft target for this technology".

Encrypted

Manufacturers MLS say it would be very difficult for a third party to access the prints and make use of them.

The company's technology director Stephen Phillips said: "The system does not store the actual fingerprint, but a map of it which takes in the print's key features.

"The image is then compressed and encrypted, so it would take a lot of effort to use it.

"People who have nothing to hide - why would they worry?"

Mr Phillips said the company advised schools to consult or inform parents before they used the technology.

He said only two parents had complained about the use of the technology to the company.

Privacy International says it expects there to be legal challenges to the use of the technology in schools.

But the government's information commissioner does not believe the system is breaking any laws or conventions.

Assistant to the commissioner, Phil Boyd said: "It is not in breach of the data protection act and it does not contravene the human rights act."

He said officials had been to check the system and thought it was impressive in terms of the security of the data.

"If it was being used to track pupils it would be different, but this use of the technology is fine," he said.

Officials at the Department for Education said the matter was one for head teachers and governing bodies, who had to ensure they stayed within the law.

See also:

17 Jan 02 | Education
11 Jul 01 | Science/Nature
11 Jul 01 | UK
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