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Anger as Northern Ireland schools take fingerprints of pupils

Published 31/03/2010

A fingerprinting system used in some Northern Ireland schools to identify thousands of pupils in lunch-lines has sparked a privacy row among parents.

The system has so far been installed in three schools within the Belfast Education and Library Board area. After Easter four schools — Boys’ and Girls’ Model School, Ashfield Girls’ and Grosvenor Grammar — introduce the system.

Students' fingerprints are scanned, stored in encrypted form and checked when the pupil places their thumb on a scanner, allowing them to buy lunch in the canteen.

A BELB spokesman said every school using the system had held information sessions for schools for parents or had any concerns they had.

The providers claim the system is secure and not vulnerable to identity fraud or theft.

But Strangford UUP MLA David McNarry said he received complaints from seven parents.

He said such a move “necessitated thorough scrutiny”.

Dawn Cousins, with two children at Grosvenor Grammar, said she believed it “contravenes the children’s privacy and data protection rights”.

Mrs Cousins, from the Strangford area, said: “It is a very good school, but we were sent a letter about how the new biometric system will work, and that they were installing it.

“They said a question and answer session would be happening on March 15 — about two days after the letter was sent out. I could not get to it.

“No other information was sent home to the parent.”

She wrote to the school refusing her permission.

“I don’t think it is suitable for children. I mean scanning of fingerprints is something that you link with criminals.”

Grosvenor Grammar School was contacted but not available for comment.

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