Our Man in Westminster
Schools taking fingerprints
I HAVE been asked an intriguing question which I want to share more widely: How many children in Ashford have had their fingerprints taken at school? You might assume, as I did, that this serious intrusion into the privacy of children would only happen to those who had committed an offence. You would be wrong. Thousands of schools around the country have quietly started using biometric recorders to take the fingerprints of their pupils. Many of these are doing so without even informing parents, let alone getting their consent. If this happens to a child under the age of 12 it is a breach of the Data Protection Act, but my unease about this growing practice goes wider than that. It looks to me like another move towards assuming we are all guilty until proved innocent; the exact reverse of the traditional basis of British justice. It is bad enough when adults are treated like this. It is really disturbing when young children are brought up to believe that this is a normal part of life. This all started a number of years ago, but there are still no national guidelines about how and when schools should be allowed to do this. The excuse given is that this allows children to access libraries and buy canteen food. There are two reasons why using fingerprints like this is wrong. The first is that it conditions children to accept the loss of any privacy. The second is that the information is being stored on databases which may not be secure. So is this happening to your child, or to you? I would be intrigued to know how many schools now operate this system and how many parents know about it. At the very least, we need a proper public debate about it.