School defends pupil fingerprint scan

PUPILS' fingerprints are being scanned at two Suffolk schools before they buy dinner in a new “cashless” catering system, it has emerged.

By John Howard

PUPILS' fingerprints are being scanned at two Suffolk schools before they buy dinner in a new “cashless” catering system, it has emerged.

A headteacher at one of the schools has insisted it is not an infringement of civil liberties, despite concerns being voiced by one pressure group.

Stowmarket High School has become only the second comprehensive in Suffolk to adopt the controversial method for meals, alongside Kirkley High in Lowestoft.

School bosses say it means there is no chance of children being bullied for their dinner money, but campaigners claim it is unwise to encourage children to allow fingerprints to be used for such an everyday activity.

Keith Penn, Stowmarket headteacher, said: “I have no concerns about any infringement of civil liberties in this instance and am not concerned about this issue.

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“It's been very successful, and there have been no real problems, or complaints. A handful of parents were not prepared for their children to do it, and people can always opt out if they wish and use a card instead.”

Children's fingers are scanned and then their meal accounts debited. A spokesman for Suffolk County Council, the education authority, said: “In recent years, fingerprint recognition systems have been introduced for school libraries.

“The technology works with a scanner and uses the lines in a fingerprint to create a code. The fingerprint itself is not stored, only the code. When the same finger is placed on the scanner, it creates the code again and looks for a match. There are more than 80 schools in Suffolk using this technology in their libraries.

“Moving to a cashless catering system gets around the problems associated with children carrying loose cash with them in school.

“Generally this has meant introducing plastic cards but the card can be lost or forgotten. Using this technology means that children cannot be bullied for their cash or card and will not forget it.”

But Action on Rights for Children (Arch) is concerned and said teachers were unwise to encourage children to allow fingerprints to be used for such an everyday activity.

Director Terri Dowty said a growing number of schools were taking pupils' fingerprints and some used them for registration.

She said: “We have a number of concerns about this with children and experts with more knowledge than me are also concerned. Can the database be used by anyone else? Can the police get access to it? Is the school absolutely sure that the data is safe?

“Things like fingerprints are becoming more and more important. They may soon be on passports. If we get identity cards they may be on them. It may become very valuable to a criminal. We just think children should be made aware that their fingerprints are very important and be taught to be very careful before giving them.

“They shouldn't be taught to use them unnecessarily for such everyday things as buying their dinner at school or taking out a library book or registering in the morning.”