Biometrics in schools

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Biometrics in schools have been used primarily in the UK and US since the early first decade of the 21st century, with some use of biometric technology in schools in Asia also. Biometric technology is used to address truancy, to replace library cards, or to charge for meals. School biometrics, typically electronic fingerprinting systems, have raised privacy concerns because of the creation of databases that would progressively include the entire population.


Schools use student's biometric data for cashless catering, libraries, payment systems, registration and locker systems. In the UK biometric technology in schools were initially used for library book issue, approved for use by the UK's Information Commissioner's Office[1] in 2001 and the Department for Education[2] in 2002. Within a few years biometrics were being used for cashless catering systems, enabling parents to deposit money into students catering accounts, to be debited by a child's biometric fingerprint scan at the point of sale. In the USA biometrics systems are used primarily for catering, as mentioned above, with library and registration biometrics in use also . Fingerprint locking systems happened in the United Kingdom (fingerprint lock in the Holland Park School in London,[3]) databases, etc., in Belgium (école Marie-José in Liège [4][5]), in France, in Italy, etc.

When children use systems in which their biometric fingerprints are processed in school no image of the fingerprint stored, although the fingerprint data stored can be potentially used in the same way as an image of a fingerprint. A series of digits (some 30) is created so the computer can recognise a child when he/she places their fingerprint on a scanner. The data stored can be interoperable[6] with Automated Fingerprint Identification Systems (AFIS) used by Police and agencies to store fingerprint data.

It is claimed to be impossible to reconstruct a finger print from biometric readers although research in 2007 was undertaken and the paper 'From Template to Image: Reconstructing Fingerprints from Minutiae Points' [7] was published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.[8]

United Kingdom[edit]

In 2002 the NGO Privacy International has alerted that tens of thousands of UK school children were being fingerprinted by schools, often without the knowledge or consent of their parents.[9] In 2002, the supplier Micro Librarian Systems, which use a technology similar to US prisons and German military, estimated that 350 schools throughout Britain were using such systems, to replace library cards.[9] In 2007, it was estimated that 3,500 schools (ten times more) are using such systems.[10] By 2009 the number of children fingerprinted was estimated to be two million.[11]

In the Protection of Freedoms Act; Part 1 "Regulation of Biometric Data", Chapter 2 schools and colleges are required to obtain consent of one parent of a child under 18 for acquiring and processing the child's biometric information and gives the child rights to stop the processing of their biometric information regardless of any parental consent, it also states if any parent of the child objects to the processing of biometric information it must also be discontinued.

In addition to this schools are subject to the Data Protection Act and the Human Rights Act.

Privacy International warned that the practice of finger printing for the purpose of library cards was in clear violation of the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act: The law states that privacy invasion must be proportionate to the threat. A few lost library cards do not warrant mass finger printing. It is also likely that the practice breaches Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that 'no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy...'"[12]

Others claim that under the Data Protection Act (DPA), schools in the UK do not have to ask parental consent for such practices. Parents opposed to such practices may only bring individual complaints against schools.[13] Regardless of this the child's rights under the Protection of Freedoms Act remain unaffected.

Concerns have been raised about the civil liberties implications of fingerprinting children in schools.[14] In 2007 Early Day Motion 686, which called on the UK Government to conduct a full and open consultation with stakeholders about the use of biometrics in schools, secured the support of 85 Members of Parliament.[15]

In response to a complaint which they are continuing to pursue, in 2010 the European Commission expressed 'significant concerns' over the proportionality and necessity of the practice and the lack of judicial redress, indicating that the practice may break the European Union data protection directive.[16]


The alleged use of taking children's fingerprints is to struggle against school truancy and/or to replace library cards or money for meals by fingerprint locks. In Belgium, this practice gave rise to a question in Parliament on February 6, 2007 by Michel de La Motte (Humanist Democratic Centre) to the Education Minister Marie Arena, who replied that they were legal insofar as the school did not use them for external purposes nor to survey the private life of children.[17] Such practices have also been used in France (Angers, Carqueiranne college in the Var — the latter won the Big Brother Award of 2005 for its hand geometry system, etc.) although the CNIL, official organism in charge of protection of privacy, has declared them "disproportionate.".[18] The CNIL, however, declared in 2002 hand geometry systems to be acceptable.

Early applications[edit]

The first reported use of biometric systems in U.S. schools was at Minnesota's Eagan High School in March 1997.[19] Eagan High School, a testing ground for education technology since it opened, allowed willing students to use fingerprint readers to speed up the borrowing of library books.

Penn Cambria School District in Cresson, PA was another earlier user of biometric technology.[20] In 2000, Food Service Solutions, a local software development company, designed and implemented a system where students bought lunch with just a fingerprint. The American Civil Liberties Union stated that this"could hasten the end of privacy rights"[21]

Biometric systems were first used in schools in the UK in 2001. Use of this technology in schools is now widespread, though there are currently no official figures for how many schools employ the technology.[22]


Biometric technologies in schools are used to borrow library books, for cashless canteen systems, vending machines, class attendance and payments into schools. Biometric technologies for home/school bus journeys are also under development.[23]


The most common misconception[citation needed] about fingerprint systems is that they are thought to store a fingerprint image or other biometric information, which calls into question legal and data protection concerns. However these systems actually work by running key features of the fingerprint through a complicated encryption algorithm. This produces a result which cannot be "reverse engineered" to produce any biometric or image information.[citation needed]

This means the data kept on file can only be used to verify an identity against another scan through the same system, the information would be effectively useless to police and 3rd parties.[24] Quoted in a broken link to a website that sells biometric hardware.


Primarily the type of biometric employed is a fingerprint scan or thumbprint scan but vein and iris scanning systems are also in use.[25][26]


Biometric systems can be used by children as young as three years old.[27]

Current usage[edit]

The two countries at the forefront employing biometric technology in schools are the UK and the USA. Biometric systems are also used in some schools in Belgium[28] and Sweden[29] but were withdrawn from China and Hong Kong schools due to privacy concerns.[30] It was reported in August 2007 that Dubai are soon due to issue guidance to schools.[31]

Security concerns[edit]

Concerns about the security implications of using conventional biometric templates in schools have been raised by a number of leading IT security experts, including Kim Cameron, architect of identity and access in the connected systems division at Microsoft, who cites research by Cavoukian and Stoianov to back up his assertion that "it is absolutely premature to begin using 'conventional biometrics' in schools".[32][33]


Biometric vendors claim benefits to schools such as improved reading skills, decreased wait times in lunch lines and increased revenues.[34] They do not cite independent research to support this. Educationalist Dr. Sandra Leaton Gray of Homerton College, Cambridge stated in early 2007 that "I have not been able to find a single piece of published research which suggests that the use of biometrics in schools promotes healthy eating or improves reading skills amongst children... There is absolutely no evidence for such claims".[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Empreintes digitales pour les enfants d'une école de Londres (French)
  4. ^ Empreintes digitales pour sécuriser l'école ? (French)
  5. ^ Le lecteur d'empreintes dans les écoles crée la polémique, 7 Sur 7, February 5, 2007 (French)
  6. ^
  7. ^ [1]
  8. ^ [2]
  9. ^ a b Fingerprinting of UK school kids causes outcry, The Register, July 22, 2002
  10. ^ Child fingerprint plan considered, BBC, March 4, 2007
  11. ^ Singh, Y. "Why are we fingerprinting children?", The Guardian, March 7, 2009
  12. ^
  13. ^ Schools can fingerprint children without parental consent, The Register, September 7, 2006
  14. ^ Porter, H. "Blindly fingerprinting children", The Guardian, November 18, 2009
  15. ^ "EDM 686 - Biometric Data Collection In Schools". UK Parliament. 2007-01-19. Retrieved 2009-11-28. 
  16. ^ Europe tells Britain to justify itself over fingerprinting children in schools Telegraph, published 2010-12-14, accessed 2011-01-13
  17. ^ Prises d'empreintes digitales dans un établissement scolaire, Question d'actualité à la Ministre-Présidente en charge de l'Enseignement obligatoire et de Promotion sociale (French)
  18. ^ Quand la biométrie s'installe dans les cantines au nez et à la barbe de la Cnil, Zdnet, September 9, 2003 (French)
  19. ^ "This Minnesota high school gives fingerprint scanning a whorl". eSchool News. 2000-09-01. Archived from the original on November 11, 2003. Retrieved 2006-11-20. 
  20. ^ Fingerprints Pay For School Lunch
  21. ^ "Fingerprints Pay For School Lunch". CBS News. January 24, 2001. 
  22. ^ Knight, J. Parliamentary Written Answer 110750, Hansard, January 29, 2007.
  23. ^ Grossman, W. "Is school fingerprinting out of bounds?", The Guardian, March 30, 2006.
  24. ^ "Biometrics & fingerprints in schools, should I worry?", Eyenetwatch Biometrics, July, 2010.
  25. ^ Biometrics in Schools, Colleges and other Educational Institutions, Data Protection Commissioner, 2007
  26. ^ Vein scanning in a primary school for food, in Scotland,, October 2006
  27. ^ Devlin, K. "Nursery children to be fingerprinted", The Daily Telegraph, September 23, 2006.
  28. ^ Fingerprint recognition in high schools[dead link] used for registration.
  29. ^ Kvarnby School in Stockholm[dead link] used to login to school computers.
  30. ^ China: Ballard, M. "Halt to school fingerprinting", The Register, November 9, 2006.
  31. ^ Fingerprinting of pupils fails to score
  32. ^ Will biometrics grow up?
  33. ^ Biometric Encrypton: A Positive-Sum Technology that Achieves Strong Authentication, Security AND Privacy Cavoukian,A and Stoianov,A March 2007
  34. ^ Fingerprint Software Eliminates Privacy Concerns and Establishes Success (FindBiometrics)
  35. ^ LTKA - Experts warn of serious child fingerprinting risks (against schools fingerprinting our children)

External links[edit]


The following laws, legal opinions, or guidance are in place to regulate children's use of biometric technology. To date the practise of using biometrics in schools is only legally regulated in the USA:

Non statutory advice[edit]