Friday, May 26, 2017

Schools obligations to students biometric data

It's that time of year again, when parents with children going up to high schools are encountering biometric systems in their children's new schools and are unsure of their rights to consent and what responsibilities the school has to ensure school services are not withheld from students who do not participate in their biometric system.  Hopefully this will clarify schools, parents and children's position.  A PDF version can be found here.

A school’s responsibility
A school cannot take and process a student’s, under 18 years old, biometric data without the consent of the parent/s or the student.  Consent must be given in writing from the parent/s.  Consent can be withdrawn at any time.

·         If one parent consents and the other does not, the non-consent takes precedence. 

·         If the parent/s consent and the student does not, the students non-consent takes precedence. 

·         If the parent/s do not consent and the student does consent, the parents non-consent takes precedence.

If a consent is not given the school “must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.” as detailed in the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012,Chapter 2 Section 26 (7).

Parent/s must be informed by the school that they are using a biometric system and the school must gain written consent from the parent/s to take and process their child’s biometric data.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.
Schools do not always make it clear when asking for consent that an alternative to the biometric system is available and that non-consent ultimately lies with the student.

Regardless of consent given by your parent/s you alone determine whether a school takes and processes your biometric data.   If you choose not to use a biometric system the school must provide an alternative and must not withhold any services from you that is available through their biometric system.  You may withdraw your consent at any time.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Schools asking for consent to process children's biometrics

I am getting a lot of emails from concerned parents of children leaving primary school to go to secondary school with the way that the secondary schools are asking for consent to use their child's biometrics - fingerprint, fingertip data - and not offering an alternative method to access the catering, library, registration, etc, system.  In this parents are feeling that their request for consent is coerced.

Schools MUST offer an alternative to biometricsThe Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, Chapter 2, Section 27 (7) states that: 

The relevant authority must ensure that reasonable alternative means are available by which the child may do, or be subject to, anything which the child would have been able to do, or be subject to, had the child’s biometric information been processed.

Unfortunately some parents have been made to feel from schools that they are being unreasonable in not giving consent and that they are they only one objecting to biometric consent.  You are not a 'problem parent'.  You and your child have a right to not give the school biometric data - data that is absolutely unique, personal, highly precious and that needs to be secure for the child's life time.

Parents feeling isolated by a school is a story I have heard over the past 10 years so many times from so many parents - you are not alone at all.  I myself last year, when my child entered sixth form, was told by the Principal that I was the only parent objecting to them using my child's biometrics - I was not.

Quite often the supplier of the biometric system to the school will also offer alternative means of accessing the system they provide.  Examples are swipe card, PIN number and taking the names of the children at the point of sale at the till, so it shouldn't be an inconvenience for the school to offer alternative means of identification.

The new EU General Data Protection Regulations is law for every member state of the EU, including us.  It came into law 27th April 2016.  Schools are subject to this.

Point 32 states:
Consent should be given by a clear affirmative act establishing a freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous indication of the data subject's agreement to the processing of personal data relating to him or her, such as by a written statement, including by electronic means, or an oral statement.

Point 42 states:
Consent should not be regarded as freely given if the data subject has no genuine or free choice or is unable to refuse or withdraw consent without detriment.

If anyone has any concerns or questions please don't hesitate to get in touch, I'm really happy to help if I can.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Consider carefully when consenting to children's biometrics in schools

'Turning fingers into keys'
Credit: kaprik/
There is a great article written by Brian Patton, University of Oxford, entitled "The trouble with taking biometric technology into schools", that appeared in The Conversation earlier this month, which every parent and student should read before considering using their biometrics in schools.

Other than copy most of the article into this post I would urge a read of the article which succinctly discusses security, effectiveness, implications of a data breach and consent.  

Schools and biometric companies supplying schools are keen to reassure parents and students that it is not a (pictorial) fingerprint that is being stored but simply a number string -  a number string completely unique and specific to your child's 'bio' body 'metric' measure.

Patton makes the valid point that:

"For other biometric data it's important to remember that what is being matched within the computer is not, say, one fingerprint against another. It is a set of data drawn from the features of the scanned body part – a numerical abstraction. Steal this key and you have effectively stolen that part of the person."

He also goes on to say that,

"...a  data breach will mean these type of scans will be untrustworthy for the pupils – for the rest of their lives.
And therein lies another issue: with the potential for life-long consequences, are pupils, some below the age of 16, competent to opt in to such a scheme? And what of those who opt out? It's one thing to ask adults to weigh up the balance between convenience and risk, but there are two likely issues that would make this harder in schools. There is an inbalance of power between those wanting to implement the technology and those subject to it.  This raises serious concerns about informed consent – perhaps one of the reasons why in 2012 using biometrics was banned in English state schoolswithout parents' consent."

It is unclear if there have been any data breaches of biometric databases in schools as the UK Information Commissioner's Office (responsible for the UK Data Protection Act), in response to a Freedom of Information request regarding compromised biometric databases specifically in education, are "unable to conduct an electronic search of our system using the term ‘biometric" and so could not supply information on if there has been any data breaches of children's biometric data in schools.

There are potentially long term, unknown consequences to this biometric technology used on the youngest generation in society - we are experimenting with it on our children in schools for daily activities that can be easily undertaken, quite adequately, without the use of biometrics.

I guess an individual will only know when their biometric data has been compromised when in the future they hit a problem regarding their biometrics.  How will they know when it was compromised, by whom and where their very personal digital identity has gone? 

In the words of Brian Drury, IT Security Consultant:

"Once a child has touched a [biometric] scanner they will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives."

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Facial recognition scrapped in San Diago schools

Encinitas Union School District has scrapped iPad facial recognition replacing passwords.  A system that was thought to initially cost $63,000 spiraled to $189,000 purely for "eliminating a common complaint: having to remember too many passwords for various programs on the devices."

How utterly ridiculous!  If children cannot remember a few passwords to log into an iPad how on earth is a school to hope children will retain lesson content?

What is more worrying is that teachers also "dedicate a lot of time to logging in".  Apparently with this new facial recognition programme it is a “walk through one door and you’re into everything,”...erm, isn't that what an iPad password does anyway?

The whole sales pitch on this was completely flawed - in fact it was a load of rubbish and parents were not falling for it.  A solution to a problem that simply did not exist and parents rightly saw through this.

It's strange isn't it?  Outside school children are quite capable of remembering passwords for computers, tablets and mobile phones.  As a parent I can absolutely say that I have never heard another parent moan about their child's inability to remember a password or had any conversation with another parent about their child's passwords being stolen or compromised.  So it's very odd that when a child enters school this sudden amnesia becomes a problem that potentially costs the tax payer $189,000.  I would say that is unbelievable. 

If maybe, possibly, this peculiar amnesia is true, then surely $189,000 could be better spent to fund research into this strange phenomenon of kids forgetting passwords...  I don't think we'll see that happen because this sudden loss of memory in our children does not exist - and we parents know it.

A petition was set up by a parent that gained over 360 signatures and was successful in swaying opinion that biometric facial recognition is a completely unnecessary and inappropriate technology to use with children.

Findbiometrics say on the failed programme-

"At a time when biometric technology is increasingly finding applications in schools – from deployments as innocuous as cafeteria lunch administration to more serious security systems – the EUSD fiasco signals how precarious this area can be, given the privacy and security concerns that often seem to come up with public biometric deployments, and parents’ particularly strong interest in protecting their kids."   

-  No sh*t Sherlock.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Biometric facial recognition in education

Facial recognition is a biometric technology not much used in education.  If it is to be used it has been mooted that it will track children’s facial expressions to gauge response to lessons or on screen learning but it is now starting to creep into identifying and verification of students.

In the UK, facial recognition systems are not used in schools with the exception of one small instance of facial recognition being used in education in 2010 at the City of Ely Community College for registration purposes.  The college no longer uses the facial recognition system as it wasn’t suitable for the purpose intended; the scheme ran for around an academic year before being scrapped.

U-T San Diego file photo
Now the technology has matured over the past 5 years, facial recognition is coming back into education.  Encinitas Union School District, in California, students will log in to their iPads via facial recognition technology for a first-of-its-kind pilot project.  This involves the iPad scanning the child’s face every 60 seconds claiming to help kids log on to technology and for them not to forget their passwords.  If a child cannot be taught to remember their password then what hope is there for the schools to actually educate them!   This is not about remembering passwords or saving time logging on.  This is about constantly verifying the student so that the data controllers running the educational software can accurately gather data on that individual.  So here facial recognition is being used to identify and continuously verify.  Not without controversy though, parents are not happy with this constant biometric facial scanning for a number of reasons, invasion of privacy of minors and a that it a waste of money, with a petition set up against the facial recognition technology being used in this schools district.

“Encinitas Union launched its iPad program in 2012, equipping each third-through sixth-grade student with a device to use for school work and lessons. Since then, the district has put iPads into the hands of all of its 5,400 students, at a cost of $2.7 million.
“It’s creepy to take a photograph of a kid every 60 seconds,” said Gil Saidy, who has a third grade son at Flora Vista Elementary School. “I don’t trust them. I don’t want these roving cameras in my house.”
“It’s a momma-bear’s instinct to protect their child. I just don’t know who has access to the face scans,” said another parent, Darcy Brandon. “Where is the data being stored?”

The pilot program would start with 100 students and, if successful, the technology could ultimately be added to all district iPads. Parents must opt-in to have their child use biometrics.”
At the very least it is an opt-in scheme so hopefully most parents will have the common sense to say ‘no’ to this unnecessary use of facial recognition, desensitising our kids to constant monitoring.
Unlike fingerprint or palm scanning biometrics used in schools, facial recognition is a non-participatory biometric with the ubiquitous scanning happening without conscious involvement.  What else is the facial scanning revealing?   

Educational companies are lining up with emotional face biometrics coming into education gauging how a student is feeling, where their eyes are looking, how they are reacting.  An article from September 2013 reports that SensorStar Labs have a product that records “When the student is looking up at the teacher, the teacher score goes up.  If she looks down at the computer, the computer score goes up. So we’re tracking facial expressions.  If she makes a smile, it might be indicative that is enthusiastic about the topic.”

Facial recognition has also been introduced at St Mary's High School, St Louis, for 'safety' reasons only allowing in to school registered members on the database.  This is thought to be the first instance of facial recognition being used in this way in the States.  There is also a 'watch list' of peoples faces not allowed in the school that alerts law enforcement if those persons of interest try to enter.  Presumably opting out of this facial recognition system is not an option for pupils as it would deny them entry to education.

Facial recognition seems to be emerging as the new educational biometric.  Not for the student convenience or safety, more about verification of data capture... who is where, doing what and when. 

Children are the most data mined section of our society.  Biometric facial verification more accurately authenticates the data grab and profiling of our kids.  

Monday, February 09, 2015

Compulsory fingerprinting for primary school children in Australia

Fingerprinting children in school, especially primary school children, is a contentious issue - with parents and children having the right in the UK not to participate.  Schools must seek written consent to take and process a child's biometric data.

Not so in Australia it seems.

In this article it reported that East Para Primary School has told parents they have "no choice" in the matter for a school registration system that will eventually be introduced for parents too if they want to enter the school.  The school's current newsletter states the same blerb parents have had here in the UK reassuring that no image of the fingerprint will be stored, it cannot be reconstructed and the biometric data will not be given to government or agencies... but put plainly it is a biometric mark/measure of your child's body, in this case a fingerprint, that has to stay secure, safe and never be compromised.

Giving up ones biometric may not be considered a proportionate use of personal data.  Parents should be able to decide what level of privacy they want for themselves and their children in this respect.

The article 'East Para Primary School pupils to have fingerprints scanned as part of new student attendance record-keeping program' goes on to report:

School mother Sandra Tomasin said she was disgusted by the move and immediately rang the school to ask that her Year 1 son be exempt from the program.

“They have told me that I have no choice,’’ Ms Tomasin said.

“It is an invasion of privacy. I don’t want to let it happen but I want to keep him at the school.’’

Ms Tomasin said regardless of whether or not finger prints were stored by the system, primary school children having to scan their fingers when they came and went to school was outrageous.

Sandra Tomasin is rightly outraged and should have a right for her child to attend school and NOT having to give up their biometric data.

In the UK schools fell short of giving this ultimatum as it was thought to breach Human Rights legislation by denying a service to a child because they chose not to give up their biometric data, any ultimatum of this sort was also on shaking grounds with Article 16 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child  (right to privacy) "Every child has the right to privacy. The law should protect the child’s private, family and home life." - which does apply to Australia.

The below statement was made by Privacy International in 2002 about library systems that used children's fingerprint biometrics in the UK to log books in and out.  It is still applicable now.