Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
The innocuous term ‘kiddyprinting’ refers to the controversial practice of routinely fingerprinting schoolchildren. Many parents are unaware of it because they have not been asked for their explicit consent, or in many cases even notified that it is taking place.
There are no official figures for how many schools in England use some form of biometric identification system. Terri Dowty, director of Action on Rights for Children (ARCH), claims ‘thousands certainly. But local authorities aren’t keeping any records.’
Fingerprint templates do not count as sensitive data in the UK, she says, and so controls are limited. It was only after years of pressure from ARCH and, more recently, the Leave Them Kids Alone campaign that non-statutory guidance on the use of fingerprints was issued to schools in July 2007. Campaigners are far from satisfied and a House of Commons early day motion has been tabled calling for a full debate.
But isn’t this alarmist when the fingerprints are only being used for library, catering and registration systems? Dowty argues that behind the issue of biometrics there is the question of what kind of information the databases themselves are storing: ‘School canteen systems are storing information on each child’s individual school meal choices and library book reports are being generated that break down by ethnicity, age and gender what a child has been reading. This is a terrible intrusion.’
There is also a security risk: ‘Manufacturers say that they’re encrypting the fingerprints so the systems are secure but they won’t guarantee them beyond ten years. And that’s because with the developments in technology, in ten years’ time the landscape will be unrecognisable. We are entering a stage where biometrics are becoming increasingly important for security-critical functions and if there does come a time when it’s easy to reconstruct fingerprints where you have access to accompanying personal data, it will be a bonanza for anyone who wants to forge identities.’
Helping the police
Jim Knight, the minister for schools and learning, also said this summer that the police could help themselves to the children’s fingerprints if they are trying to solve a crime – regardless of whether they have ever previously been in trouble with the law. Dowty says it is turning us from a nation of free citizens into a nation of suspects: ‘Why should we have our fingerprints or DNA stored if we have done nothing wrong?’
The Criminal Justice Act 2003 gave the police new powers to retain DNA samples of anyone arrested for a recordable offence. As a result of increasing numbers of children being picked up for low-level offences and then routinely DNA-sampled, Dowty estimates that samples from close to one million children are now on the National DNA Database. According to Home Office figures, between 33,000 and 82,000 of these have never been convicted or even reprimanded. Going by Youth Justice Board arrest statistics, Dowty believes the figure is probably at the higher end of this range.
In addition to the principle of routine DNA sampling, Dowty is also concerned about how reliable it is in practice. She says that people don’t realise how often mistakes are made with DNA samples, especially with techniques such as low copy number (LCN) DNA testing, where forensics try to generate a DNA sample from one cell. Far from being the infallible test of popular understanding, the FBI and others have, since 2001, urged caution when using LCN DNA sampling as a forensic technique.
In an effort to predict which children will become delinquent the government now wants to collect children’s data in a central trilogy of databases containing medical information, school results, social work case notes and records from other public services.
First, ContactPoint is an index of every child in the UK from 0-18 years. Second, the Electronic Common Assessment Framework (eCAF) will serve as an in-depth profiling mechanism; it is, in Dowty’s opinion, ‘the most intrusive personal assessment tool’. And third, there’s the Integrated Children’s System (ICS), holding the social care records of each child.
Dowty argues that: ‘Because we’re so penny pinching we’ve developed this secondary prevention, which identifies all children from deprived areas as potential criminals and of course stigmatises the child completely.’ She sees these surveillance techniques as just a technical fix for the real problems and dangers facing children, and believes they mask the chronic shortage of child protection social workers.
‘In most areas there is something like a 20 per cent vacancy rate for child and family social workers and in some closer to 50 per cent,’ she says. ‘What we’ve never done is tackle this shortage and look at why so many are leaving the profession. We also have this obsession with managerialism and targets. We’re pretending that people with social care problems are susceptible to a production line approach – and they’re not. It’s actually a very dangerous approach.’
Dowty believes the government must be prevented from going any further. ‘We must start enforcing laws on consent. It’s something parliament hasn’t looked at since 1969 and it is time we had a review. That’ll be a start,’ she says.
Action on Rights for Children: www.arch-ed.org
Leave Them Kids Alone: www.leavethemkidsalone.com
The advisory council of the Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has conducted a report on ‘Children’s Databases – Safety and Privacy’, downloadable from [www.ico.gov.uk
'Docs Not Cops' write that we must resist attempts to make our NHS any less universal
Louis Mendee explains the real human costs of climate change for the global south.
From climate change to automation to demographic shifts, Mathew Lawrence explains the challenges our economy will face in the coming decade.
Fifty years after the Abortion Act, women are still dying from being denied basic services, write activists from Feminist Fightback
We need to tackle the patronising ideology that lets Tory think-tanks sneer at social tenants, writes Emma Dent Coad
Acid Corbynism allows people to imagine a future beyond the paltry offerings of capitalism, writes Keir Milburn
'We wanted to use a shared love of the beautiful game to stand in solidarity with those living under occupation', writes Kate Hadley.
Priti Patel's shady deals are business as usual. Enough is enough, writes Eleanor Penny
Boris Johnson is a local disaster and a national embarrassment. He must go, writes James Clouting
The global elite have been stealing from society on an unprecedented scale, writes Tom Walker
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny
Meet the digital feminists
We're building new online tools to create a new feminist community and tackle sexism wherever we find it, writes Franziska Grobke
The Marikana women’s fight for justice, five years on
Marienna Pope-Weidemann meets Sikhala Sonke, a grassroots social justice group led by the women of Marikana
Forget ‘Columbus Day’ – this is the Day of Indigenous Resistance
By Leyli Horna, Marcela Terán and Sebastián Ordonez for Wretched of the Earth
Uber and the corporate capture of e-petitions
Steve Andrews looks at a profit-making petition platform's questionable relationship with the cab company
You might be a centrist if…
What does 'centrist' mean? Tom Walker identifies the key markers to help you spot centrism in the wild
Black Journalism Fund Open Editorial Meeting in Leeds
Friday 13th October, 5pm to 7pm, meeting inside the Laidlaw Library, Leeds University
This leadership contest can transform Scottish Labour
Martyn Cook argues that with a new left-wing leader the Scottish Labour Party can make a comeback
Review: No Is Not Enough
Samir Dathi reviews No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics, by Naomi Klein
Building Corbyn’s Labour from the ground up: How ‘the left’ won in Hackney South
Heather Mendick has gone from phone-banker at Corbyn for Leader to Hackney Momentum organiser to secretary of her local party. Here, she shares her top tips on transforming Labour from the bottom up
Five things to know about the independence movement in Catalonia
James O'Nions looks at the underlying dynamics of the Catalan independence movement
‘This building will be a library!’ From referendum to general strike in Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte report from the Catalan general strike, as the movements prepare to build a new republic
Chlorine chickens are just the start: Liam Fox’s Brexit trade free-for-all
A hard-right free marketer is now in charge of our trade policy. We urgently need to develop an alternative vision, writes Nick Dearden
There is no ‘cult of Corbyn’ – this is a movement preparing for power
The pundits still don’t understand that Labour’s new energy is about ‘we’ not ‘me’, writes Hilary Wainwright
Debt relief for the hurricane-hit islands is the least we should do
As the devastation from recent hurricanes in the Caribbean becomes clearer, the calls for debt relief for affected countries grow stronger, writes Tim Jones
‘Your credit score is not sufficient to enter this location’: the risks of the ‘smart city’
Jathan Sadowski explains techno-political trends of exclusion and enforcement in our cities, and how to overcome this new type of digital oppression
Why I’m standing with pregnant women and resisting NHS passport checks
Dr Joanna Dobbin says the government is making migrant women afraid to seek healthcare, increasing their chances of complications or even death
‘Committees in Defence of the Referendum’: update from Catalonia
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte on developments as the Catalan people resist the Spanish state's crackdown on their independence referendum