Fingerprinting children

July 2, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

708_2.jpgI’m doing research into biometric technology and surveillance issues, which I’ll share with you soon. But a part of this research has been looking into fingerprinting as a means of checking a person’s identity. There’s a good side to biometric identification: fingerprints left behind at a crime scene can demonstrate that a particular person was present at the time; a fingerprint recorded on a central database can be checked and matched against a fingerprint presented in a passport.

But biometric technology has flaws. A fingerprint can be forged by a “gummy finger” – a fake finger created with gelatin that has prints lifted from a glass or other objects. More on this in a later post.

I came across news from the BBC that disturbs me. School children at a Suffolk UK school are being subjected to fingerprinting technology – not because they are suspects from a crime scene or because they’re lining up in immigration eager to leave the UK. No, they are being fingerprinted for……their school lunches.

Instead of paying cash, childrens’ thumb prints will be scanned into machines so that the kids can pay for their meals and so parents can monitor their kid’s diets. I understand that parents would be concerned about what their child eats. Our society is plagued with fast food, obesity and health issues related to inadequate or fat laden diets. No argument. So I thought: okay, maybe it’s not such a bad thing.

Then I came across another article in the course of my research from The Independent, which really alarmed me. Apparently, the UK Government has given the go-ahead for children as young as 5 years to be fingerprinted and iris-scanned in an effort to monitor attendance, track whereabouts and check what the child ate.

Now, there are a number of issues here I think:

  • how will the biometric data be stored and secured? If not secured, biometric information is prone to identity theft or hacking;
  • will the biometric data be erased once the child leaves school?
  • are parents allowed to opt-out and have their child exempted from fingerprinting and iris-scanning for religious or cultural reasons?
  • can the biometric data be shared with other schools and agencies? Stuff I’ve been reading indicates that we’re often not aware how our information is shared between agencies.
  • what are the long-term effects of iris-scanning? The iris has to be about 9cm away from the scanning device. I haven’t yet finished my research into harmful side effects of retinal scanning, but I’m assuming that the infrared light shone in the eye will have no long term effects. But this is a question that must be asked.

It all gets back to our right to privacy and anonymity. Surely, kids have a right to live out their childhood without the glare of Big Brother? Is this the world of the future: scanned and subject to surveillance from the age of 5? Hey, why not simply bar code kids?!

I’ll check out whether Australian schools are following, or planning to follow, the UK and fingerprint school kids. What do you think – is this sort of thing going too far?

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Entry filed under: Privacy, Surveillance society.

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