Coalition government remains silent over kids fingerprinting proposals

Despite the coalition government making a promise to only allow children’s fingerprinting with the consent of an adult it has made no firm plans to put this in place.

The new government outlined these plans which were welcomed by Action on Rights for Children (ARCH) in section 10 of its coalition paper. It said that it would banish schools fingerprinting children of under 18 unless there was parental consent. However both ARCH and No2ID, which has also been fighting for this cause, have said they have not been able to contact any key figures in parliament to find out when this is going to happen.

Terri Dowty, director at ARCH, told TechEye: “Departments are silent, we don’t get replies.

“Despite emails and various phonecalls to the new government we haven’t heard anything back. We don’t know when this will take place and how the government proposes to make it completely clear to adults that this would be a voluntary measure.

“It also needs to specify the pros and cons as well as taking into account the strong willed minds of teens who may have opposite views than to their parents.”

Phil Booth, director of No2ID also said it had not heard anything at all from the government. However, he said the last government’s way of dealing with this issue has been “appalling”.

He also warned that these new proposals could be “hidden away” as the coalition puts its effort into cuts and budgets.

“Previously senior politicians, for example Jack Straw, pretended that they did not know this was going on. And when guidelines were issued by [the now defunct] Becta they were not explicit as to what could and couldn’t be done.”

He said the new coalition government also had to outline what would happen to the details of children who had been fingerprinted without their parents consent while the last government was in power.

Despite the proposals from the government, schools are currently carrying on regardless. Late last month reports surfaced that a school in Manchester was asking students as young as 4 to  have their thumbprints digitally transformed into electronic codes, which can then be recognised by a computer program.

Under the scheme, pupils swipe a bar code inside the book they want to borrow then press their thumb on a scanner to authorise the loan. Books are returned in the same way.

Phil Booth said that many technology companies were using schemes like this for their profits. “This is a sophisticated sales machine in a number of companies whose entire marketing is based on flogging these systems. If that’s someone’s livelihood then this coalition proposal is a looming cloud on their business.”

He also said it showed that some schools didn’t “give a damn” about the privacy rights for the individual.

We contacted the Lib Dems to ask why it had not been in contact with these groups and when it proposed to deliver its plans. A representative told us: “It’s for the Government to decide when it will bring forward legislation on this.”

A source who didn’t want to be named told us some schools are using unscrupulous methods of obtaining fingerprints from young children. Examples include cancelling lessons for each year and asking them to go into the main hall to be fingerprinted. Reasoning behind such fingerprinting includes being able to eat what they want in the canteen as they can swipe their fingerprints instead of using money – which is then billed to the parents.

Other schools have gone to much more extraordinary measures, with one source telling us a young group of children were told that they were going to play “spies”.