Generation ID: lessons in kiddyprinting

Thousands of children across the UK have had their fingerprints and DNA taken without explicit informed parental consent. Tamanna Kalhar speaks to Terri Dowty of Action on Rights for Children

January 13, 2008
5 min read

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.

Database Central

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

->www.ico.gov.uk ]


✹ Try our new pay-as-you-feel subscription — you choose how much to pay.

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 24 May
On May 24th, we’ll be holding the third of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Our activism will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit…
Reflecting on a year in the environmental and anti-racist movements, Plane Stupid activist, Ali Tamlit, calls for a renewed focus on the dangers of power and privilege and the means to overcome them.

West Yorkshire calls for devolution of politics
When communities feel that power is exercised by a remote elite, anger and alienation will grow. But genuine regional democracy offers a positive alternative, argue the Same Skies Collective

How to resist the exploitation of digital gig workers
For the first time in history, we have a mass migration of labour without an actual migration of workers. Mark Graham and Alex Wood explore the consequences

The Digital Liberties cross-party campaign
Access to the internet should be considered as vital as access to power and water writes Sophia Drakopoulou

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part III: a discussion of power and privilege
In the final article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr gives a few pointers on how to be a good ally

Event: Take Back Control Croydon
Ken Loach, Dawn Foster & Soweto Kinch to speak in Croydon at the first event of a UK-wide series organised by The World Transformed and local activists

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 19 April
On April 19th, we’ll be holding the second of Red Pepper’s Race Section Open Editorial Meetings.

Changing our attitude to Climate Change
Paul Allen of the Centre for Alternative Technology spells out what we need to do to break through the inaction over climate change

Introducing Trump’s Inner Circle
Donald Trump’s key allies are as alarming as the man himself

#AndABlackWomanAtThat – part II: a discussion of power and privilege
In the second article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the silencing of black women and the flaws in safe spaces

Joint statement on George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard
'We have come together to denounce this brazen conflict of interest and to champion the growing need for independent, truthful and representative media'

Confronting Brexit
Paul O’Connell and Michael Calderbank consider the conditions that led to the Brexit vote, and how the left in Britain should respond

On the right side of history: an interview with Mijente
Marienna Pope-Weidemann speaks to Reyna Wences, co-founder of Mijente, a radical Latinx and Chincanx organising network

Disrupting the City of London Corporation elections
The City of London Corporation is one of the most secretive and least understood institutions in the world, writes Luke Walter

#AndABlackWomanAtThat: a discussion of power and privilege
In the first article of a three-part series, Sheri Carr reflects on the oppression of her early life and how we must fight it, even in our own movement

Corbyn understands the needs of our communities
Ian Hodson reflects on the Copeland by-election and explains why Corbyn has the full support of The Bakers Food and Allied Workers Union

Red Pepper’s race section: open editorial meeting 15 March
On 15 March, we’ll be holding the first of Red Pepper’s Race Section open editorial meetings.

Social Workers Without Borders
Jenny Nelson speaks to Lauren Wroe about a group combining activism and social work with refugees

Growing up married
Laura Nicholson interviews Dr Eylem Atakav about her new film, Growing Up Married, which tells the stories of Turkey’s child brides

The Migrant Connections Festival: solidarity needs meaningful relationships
On March 4 & 5 Bethnal Green will host a migrant-led festival fostering community and solidarity for people of all backgrounds, writes Sohail Jannesari

Reclaiming Holloway Homes
The government is closing old, inner-city jails. Rebecca Roberts looks at what happens next

Intensification of state violence in the Kurdish provinces of Turkey
Oppression increases in the run up to Turkey’s constitutional referendum, writes Mehmet Ugur from Academics for Peace

Pass the domestic violence bill
Emma Snaith reports on the significance of the new anti-domestic violence bill

Report from the second Citizen’s Assembly of Podemos
Sol Trumbo Vila says the mandate from the Podemos Assembly is to go forwards in unity and with humility

Protect our public lands
Last summer Indigenous people travelled thousands of miles around the USA to tell their stories and build a movement. Julie Maldonado reports

From the frontlines
Red Pepper’s new race editor, Ashish Ghadiali, introduces a new space for black and minority progressive voices

How can we make the left sexy?
Jenny Nelson reports on a session at The World Transformed

In pictures: designing for change
Sana Iqbal, the designer behind the identity of The World Transformed festival and the accompanying cover of Red Pepper, talks about the importance of good design

Angry about the #MuslimBan? Here are 5 things to do
As well as protesting against Trump we have a lot of work to get on with here in the UK. Here's a list started by Platform