Up to a quarter of schools are taking pupils’ fingerprints – in many cases without telling parents, civil liberties campaigners claimed last night.
More than a million children have had them taken at schools where fingerprint-reading equipment is used in canteens and at registration to save time for staff.
The technology allows teachers – and some parents with online access – to monitor whether a child has turned up at school, what classes they have attended, the food they have eaten and the library books they borrow.
Around two fifths of secondary school pupils had given the so-called biometric information by the start of the 2012 academic year.
But many were not told they could refuse, according to the campaign group Big Brother Watch.
The figure is likely to be much higher because schools began gathering prints more quickly before a change in the law in September forced them to get written permission from parents.
Big Brother Watch, which used Freedom of Information requests to uncover the scale of the practice, fears the information will be kept on school databases or by third-party organisations such as the IT firms that supply and maintain the systems. In fact, it should be deleted when a child leaves secondary education.
Director Nick Pickles urged parents to ask headteachers whether their children’s details had been recorded secretly.
He also warned that pupils were being conditioned to take the loss of their privacy for granted.
He said: ‘Our major concern is that if you introduce children to providing a thumb print and being tracked across different services, they will be conditioned to think that is normal.
‘That should ring alarm bells for parents and anybody who wants a civil society with proper boundaries for privacy.
‘Parents will be rightly concerned to hear so many schools did not seek their permission to fingerprint children, while pupils may not be aware they have a right to use a system that doesn’t require a fingerprint.’
Around 40 per cent of English secondary schools were using biometric technology at the start of the 2012-13 academic year, with an estimated 1.28million pupils on databases.
The survey of 1,255 schools found 31 per cent had not bothered consulting parents before they were legally required to.
Many handed children notices that told them to provide fingerprints and did not explain they could refuse.
Children who decline to take part must be given alternatives such as smart cards or pin numbers. Their wishes override even those of their parents.
Mr Pickles added: ‘As soon as the data is no longer needed it should be deleted. The technology has only been in place for two years, so it’s too early to tell what’s happening.
‘The other concern is allowing it use by third parties such as advertisers, insurers and the police. We have no evidence of this at present but we will be doing a survey of police forces.’
A Department for Education spokesman said: ‘It is absolutely right that parents should decide how their child’s data is used.
Schools and colleges must ensure written consent is obtained from parents before a child’s biometric data is taken and must make alternative arrangements if the request is refused.’
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