05 January 2014


Biometrics in Schools: The extent of Biometrics in English secondary schools and academies by Big Brother Watch in the UK infers [PDF] that 40% of UK secondary schools are using biometric technology, over 1.2 million pupils have had fingerprints taken in recent years and that 31% of schools did not gain parental permission for that data capture prior to the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012.

The report states that
Until very recently there has even been very little awareness about the level of biometric technology being used in schools. 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. The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) stated that “such an enterprise should only be introduced when explicitly authorised by the Government and should be subject to public debate and appropriate legislation”. 
Legislation was introduced, with the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012 creating an explicit legal framework for the use of biometric technologies in schools for the first time. Parents and pupils were given a legal guarantee that no finger prints would be taken without explicit consent being obtained first and that an alternative must be made available if they did not wish to use a biometric system. 
This research, undertaken for pupils in the 2012-13 academic year, is the first effort to measure how many schools are using the technology and how many pupils have been fingerprinted without parental consent first being obtained – or even sought. Our research has found how one third of schools did not seek any parental consent when they first introduced biometric fingerprint technology, prior to the introduction of the Protection of Freedoms Act. 
Based on our research, undertaken with Freedom of Information Act Requests to more than 2,500 schools, we discovered that in the academic year 2012-13, more than 866,000 children had their fingerprints taken. 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 schoolsusing biometric technology increased from 25% to 30%, more than one million children would be fingerprinted. 
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. Given the rise of schools making this information available to parents online, the biometric technology used in this way comes close to constituting not just an ID card but a way of monitoring all their behaviour. 
This report offers an insight into the growth of the use of biometric technology across the country and highlights the continuing concerns that schools are potentially failing to use the technology without seeking parental consent.