Children as young as five to be fingerprinted in schools

by LAURA CLARK

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Guidance: Heads don’t need parents’ permission to take biometric data

Schools have been given the go-ahead to take fingerprints from children as young as five – without asking their parents first.

Ministers issued guidance allowing heads to collect pupils’ biometric data to use when taking the register, paying for lunch or using the library. Schools can also take retina and iris scans and record children’s voices, face shapes, hand measurements, handwriting and typing patterns.

Civil liberties campaigners are concerned that the data could be given to police or the Government without parents’ knowledge – or stolen by identity thieves. The advice, contained in official guidance published, has infuriated parents’ groups.

Whitehall officials insisted the data is not stored as fingerprints but unique number streams derived from the prints, rendering it useless to anyone except the school using the system.

However the claims were disputed by campaigners who oppose the use of biometric data in schools. They also said that school computers are not secure enough to keep the data safe from hackers.

An investigation earlier this year found that 285 schools have already introduced fingerprint scanners. They are used for a range of purposes including tracking children during the day to ensure they are not playing truant.

However, less than a fifth had first sought parental consent, according to a survey by the Liberal Democrats. LibDem MP Greg Mulholland said: “It is highly disappointing and unsatisfactory that there remains no legal requirement for parental consent before a child’s biometric data is collected. “This is unacceptable. A school would never dream of taking children on a school trip without consent, but collecting their fingerprints is not subject to the same safeguards.”

Nick Gibb, Tory schools spokesman, called the guidance “disappointing”. He said: “It is very weak as it neither requires schools to seek parental consent nor recognises the serious issues at stake with schools fingerprinting children simply for administrative convenience.”

David Coulter, from the pressure group Leave Them Kids Alone, added that allowing schools to take children’s fingerprints without consent was an “infringement of liberty”. He said: “These systems store fingerprint templates, which are used by the police. It leaves children open to identity fraud later on.”

Polls by lobby groups suggest as many as 3,500 schools have bought the necessary equipment.

Many heads are said to have been waiting for the official guidance before bringing in the systems, fearing they could be breaching data protection law. This states that while schools should notify parents they are taking biometric data, they do not have to seek formal consent. And if pupils are old enough – thought to be around the age of 12 – do not even have to notify parents. They can comply with the law simply by informing the child.

Campaigners wanted ministers to force schools to ensure they had written permission from parents before taking children’s fingerprints. But the guidance merely told heads it was “good practice” to be “clear and open” when introducing biometric technology.

It advises schools to make contingency plans if parents object, for example by keeping a smartcard service running alongside fingerprint scanners. However there is no requirement for them to do this. Parents’ only option if they are unhappy with the changes is to complain to the Information Commissioner.

Schools Minister Jim Knight insisted: “Biometric data is increasingly being used in schools. This guidance advises schools to fully involve parents in any decision to introduce this new technology.

“I want parents to be fully engaged with every aspect of their children’s education – this is at the heart of today’s guidance.

“I back every headteacher’s right and professional judgment to choose technology to improve their day-to-day running – but it is plain common sense for them to talk to parents about this.”

The guidance, issued by the Governmentfunded British Education Communications and Technology Agency, known as Becta, said schools must not pass on the information to outside bodies and should destroy it as soon as the pupil leaves.

However Liberty, the civil rights group, said: “The police have the right to get into any database, private or public.”

UFO sightings bring town to a standstill

Daily Mail – UK

A crowd of 100 stunned stargazers brought a town centre to a standstill when five mysterious UFOs were spotted hovering in the sky. Drinkers spilled out of pubs, motorists stopped to gawp and camera phones were aimed upwards as the five orbs, in a seeming formation, hovered above Stratford-Upon-Avon for half an hour.

The unidentified flying objects lit up the otherwise clear night sky above Shakespeare’s birthplace in Warwickshire on Saturday. Although Air Traffic Control reported no unusual activity, some witnesses were convinced they were witnessing an extra-terrestrial spectacle.

The strange episode started just after 10.30pm, when the lights were seen hovering slowly over the town before three of them formed a triangular shape with one positioned just to the right. A few minutes later a fifth came into view travelling towards the others at breakneck speed before slowing down and stopping a short distance away.

Sceptics dismissed the UFOs as nothing more than hot air balloons, fireworks or even lanterns which had broken loose from a local rugby club. Others, however, claimed the speed and agility of the objects was unlike any known aircraft and said the odd movement, lack of noise and the length of time in the air discounted any man-made explanation.

Tom Hawkes, who captured these amazing images, spotted the lights during his girlfriend Kate Lyall’s birthday at the One Elm pub. He and the 15 other revellers were in the bar when they spotted some commotion outside.

Tom, 30, said: “We walked outside and there was at that time a growing crowd of about 60 people looking up at something in the sky. “I saw this light appear, then three others. They came over our heads in formation but then manouvered into different positions. Three had formed a triangular shape and one was to the right. Then another one came hurtling towards the rest at what looked like a very fast speed. But as it neared them it suddenly slowed and stopped altogether.

“By this time more people had poured out onto the street. Two pubs had emptied, some people had come out of their houses and drivers slowed their cars.
The objects were there for about half an hour. It was very eerie because they didn’t make any sound and they stayed still before moving slowly beyond the horizon. There were no stars in the sky, just them. It was the most extraordinary thing I’ve ever seen and the way in which everyone gathered in the street to watch them reminded me of a scene from Independence Day.”

The extraordinary scenes were also witnessed by some of the staff of the One Elm pub. Chef Kern Griffiths, 26, said: “I saw five lights, we all thought they were hot air balloons at first because the glowing spheres looked like a burst of flames. But I couldn’t see any outline of the balloon itself and they were travelling far too fast.

“Suddenly someone shouted ‘look’ and there were these bright dots fizzing across the sky. It was weird, they way they moved did look alien. Some people reckon they’re fireworks but they were lit up in the sky for far too long, the local rugby club say they were lanterns that blew loose over the weekend but these objects were far too fast and too high up. They were unlike any aircraft I’ve seen. It’s a mystery.”

Hillary Potter from The British Earth Aerial Mystery Society (BEAMS) said they were being inundated with similar calls from across the country but said it was rare for such phenomena to be witnessed by so many people.

She said: “Such incidents have been on the increase recently. There are reports at the moment coming in from all over the country. We’ve had many reports of people seeing quite large unidentified objects in the skies. It’s not going away, It seems these incidents are becoming more bold. People don’t know what to do when they witness such sights and that’s what we’re here for. We take the reports very seriously.”

A Mod Spokesman said: “The MoD does not have any expertise or role in respect of UFOs or flying saucer matters or to the question of the existence of extra terrestrial life forms, about which we remain totally open minded. I should add that to date the MoD knows of no evidence which substantiates the existence of these alleged phenomena. The MoD examines any reports of unidentified flying objects it receives solely to establish whether what was seen might have some defence significance.

“Namely whether there is any evidence that the UK air space might have been compromised by hostile or unauthorised foreign military activity. Unless there is evidence of a potential threat to the United Kingdom from an external military source, and to date no UFO report has revealed such evidence, we do not attempt to identify the precise nature of each sighting reported to us.

“We believe that rational explanations such as aircraft lights or natural phenomena could be found for them if resources were diverted for this purpose but its not the function of the MoD to provide this kind of aerial identification service.”

Frankie Spray, from Wellesbourne Airfield, just outside Stratford, added: “The lights were nothing to do with us. None of our aircraft fly at night at this time of year. It’s very bizarre but I’ve got no explanation as to what the lights were.”

Birmingham Air Space which covers the skies over the town said they had not heard of any unusual activity showing up on the radar.

Alarm at US right to highly personal data

Religion and sex life among passenger details to be passed on to officials

Jamie Doward, home affairs editor – The Observer

Highly sensitive information about the religious beliefs, political opinions and even the sex life of Britons travelling to the United States is to be made available to US authorities when the European Commission agrees to a new system of checking passengers.

The EC is in the final stages of agreeing a new Passenger Name Record system with the US which will allow American officials to access detailed biographical information about passengers entering international airports.

The information sharing system with the US Department of Homeland Security, which updates the previous three-year-old system, is designed to tackle terrorism but civil liberty groups warn it will have serious consequences for European passengers. And it has emerged that both the European parliament and the European data protection supervisor are alarmed at the plan.

In a strongly worded document drawn up in response to the plan that will affect the 4 million-plus Britons who travel to the US every year, the EU parliament said it ‘notes with concern that sensitive data (ie personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs, trade union membership, and data concerning the health or sex life of individuals) will be made available to the DHS and that these data may be used by the DHS in exceptional cases’.

Under the new agreement, which goes live at the end of this month, the US will be able to hold the records of European passengers for 15 years compared with the current three year limit. The EU parliament said it was concerned the data would lead to ‘a significant risk of massive profiling and data mining, which is incompatible with basic European principles and is a practice still under discussion in the US congress.’

Peter Hustinx, the European Data Protection Supervisor, has written to the EC expressing his ‘grave concern’ at the plan, which he describes as ‘without legal precedent’ and one that puts ‘European data protection rights at risk’.

Hustinx warns: ‘Data on EU citizens will be readily accessible to a broad range of US agencies and there is no limitation to what US authorities are allowed to do with the data.’

He expresses concern about ‘the absence of a robust legal mechanism that enables EU citizens to challenge misuse of their personal information’.

Hustinx concludes: ‘I have serious doubts whether the outcome of these negotiations will be fully compatible with European fundamental rights, which both the Council and the Commission have stated are non negotiable.’

The new agreement will see US authorities gain access to detailed passenger information, from credit card details to home addresses and even what sort of food may have been ordered before a flight. In addition, US authorities will be free to add other information they have obtained about a passenger, leading to concerns about how the information will be shared.

It has emerged that neither Hustinx nor the European parliament were aware of the final draft of the plan.

‘If you are going to have this kind of agreement it should involve parliament and the data protection supervisor,’ said Tony Bunyan of Statewatch, the civil liberties organisation that campaigns against excessive surveillance.

He warned that under the new system the data will be shared with numerous US agencies. ‘The data protection supervisor and the European parliament are angry that they were not consulted,’ Bunyan said. ‘But they are also angry with a number of elements of the plan such as giving the US the absolute right to pass the data on to third parties.’

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, another group that campaigns against state surveillance, said the new agreement gave huge powers to the US authorities. ‘We have no guarantee about how this data will be used,’ Davies said.

A spokeswoman for the Information Commissioner’s Office in England and Wales said it would be discussing the matter with European counterparts shortly. ‘We are working with the European Data Protection Supervisor and our other EU data protection colleagues to come to a joint opinion on the level of data protection set out in the final agreement,’ the spokeswoman said.

Published on Wednesday, July 18, 2007 by ABC News