Children Tricked Into Giving Fingerprints…By Headmaster

A primary school headmaster has outraged parents after he tricked his pupils into recording their fingerprints by telling them they were playing spies. Children were persuaded to give their prints after being told by Mark Woodburn that it was ‘just a game…so there’s no need to tell your parents’.

Privacy campaigners said the case, involving children as young as three, highlights the extent to which Britain is becoming a surveillance society. It follows the leak of Home Office documents last week which revealed that from 2010, children aged 11 to 16 are to have their fingerprints taken and stored on a secret database when they apply for a passport.

Mr Woodburn, head teacher at Ghyllside Primary School in Kendal, Cumbria, devised the spies game when he introduced a new print-recognition library system at the school. After being told it was not necessary to tell their parents, pupils were split up into groups of five or six before being photographed and fingerprinted. The ruse was revealed when one young boy did tell his parents, who then complained.

Mr Woodburn says he was unprepared for the strength of feeling among parents about the ‘Big Brother’ system – but admits ‘in hindsight’ at he should have consulted them first. ‘I suppose I was naive,’ he said. ‘I have now sent out letters to every parent, and at the moment only five out of 360 pupils do not use the system.’

One parent, Michael Dawson, described the spread of fingerprinting in schools as ‘surveillance by the back door’. More than 3,500 schools have purchased fingerprint technology, for use in anti-truancy measures or cashless canteens, as well as library systems. Dudley Council has even published a guide to fingerprinting children on its website.

Last week, Malcolm Trobe, president of the Association of School and College Leaders, complained about the growing mass of ‘intrusive’ information held about pupils and said parents were becoming increasingly alarmed by the Big Brother-style initiatives.

Parents have no rights in law to prevent third-party agencies from accessing this information – schools merely have to tell them what is being held and how it will be used.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty, said: ‘Authoritarian societies usually sacrifice the rights and freedoms of vulnerable minorities first. Sadly Blair’s Britain is taking the same path.’