BiometricsSchools are spearheading the use of biometrics

Published 29 October 2009

Approximately 10 percent of U.K. schools are deploying biometric technologies, according to Alasdair Darroch, director of Biostore

The use of biometric technology in schools is on the rise, Hexham, .K.-based Biostore’s Alasdair Darroch told his audience at the Biometrics conference and exhibition last week. Biostore specializes in biometric technologies specifically aimed at the education sector.

In addition to using biometric technologies in school libraries, they are being used for registration, catering, access control, and for use of printers and photocopiers, he said.

The Biostore fingerprint scanners convert images into encrypted files which are stored in a secured database. “These images can’t be used to link a suspect to a crime, although there is no legislation to say this has to be the case,” Darroch told his audience. “An improvement in biometric technology has allowed schools to use the technology with confidence, and as a result, we’ve seen an increase in uptake.”

Security standards for the use of biometrics in schools are not set by authorities, “so the responsibility for security relies with the vendor,”, said Darroch. “We make sure that when a student leaves, their data is deleted, and know that effective identity management for a minimal number of databases is important for data protection.”

One of the reasons that schools are turning to biometric solutions is that it effectively stops “identity swapping” between students. “For example, students have been known to sell their ‘free school meal’ vouchers, and ID management is a timely and costly issue in schools. Biometric technologies put a stop to that.”

When addressing the issue of acceptance, Darroch claimed that “98-99 percent of students and parents are happy and accepting of biometrics in schools. Students are seemingly happy to trade a token of their identity for a reward — which is proved by the popularity of social networking sites.”

Despite this seemingly positive uptake, Darroch maintained that it is important that students have a choice about using biometric technologies in school. “It’s an emotive issue and it should be a matter of choice, and there should definitely be an alternative.”

Biostore’s director argued that the national press is renowned for misrepresenting the situation. “They claim that biometrics in schools cost extortionate amounts, which is not true — the average biometric catering scheme costs approximately £1,000 to implement — and they focus on privacy concerns. People need to understand the difference between a photo of a fingerprint and an encrypted number,” Darroch argued.

ID management and biometrics are here to stay,” insisted Darroch, who asked the audience whether it was possible that children are being used to de-sensitize people to biometrics. “Children and adults need to be taught how to manage their identity — no one token of identity can be trusted, least of all biometrics.”

The following considerations are vital in implementing biometric technology into schools, Darroch summarized:

  • Parental consultation is vital
  • Alternatives must be provided
  • Security must be implemented
  • Hardware system must be secure
  • The data must be encrypted to prevent use outside of the school
  • The data must be deleted once a student leaves
  • Young people must be educated in how to manage their identity

Finally, Darroch concluded that it was essential for biometric vendors “to move forward and do the job the best we can, and to provide schools with the best service possible.”