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
What if it's not us who are sick, asks Rod Tweedy, but a system at odds with who we are as social beings?
Survivors of the fire are still relying on thousands of community volunteers, writes Dan Renwick - but the failed council is plotting a comeback
The people could reach a democratic and non-violent solution if they were freed from US meddling, argues Boaventura de Sousa Santos
A decade after the start of the crash, economic power is in our hands – we must take it, writes Ann Pettifor
Nick Dowson looks at the new wave of co-ops and community groups where people are building their own truly affordable homes
Hsiao-Hung Pai meets people affected by the fire, and finds sadness and suffering mixed with a continuing wariness of the official investigations
Chris Williamson MP, winner of the election's tightest marginal, Derby North, and recently reappointed shadow minister for fire services, talks to Ashish Ghadiali about Jeremy Corbyn, the housing crisis and winning from the left
The Corbyn-supporting group is preparing for another election at any moment, writes Adam Peggs – and now has the potential to create powerful training initiatives, union links and party reform efforts
The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services
With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas
Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world
A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle
Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune
Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali
To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi
Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun
Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh
With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook
‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali
Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards
Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.
Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent
Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art
Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs
Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox
Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole
Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part
Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper
Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s
Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach
Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.
Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite
Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead
Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee
Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power
The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced