Blacon parents 'We'll fight Big Brother system'


Staff reporter

A CAMPAIGN has been launched to fight a ‘Big Brother’ scanning system for school dinners.

Blacon High School has introduced the new Impact Biometric cashless catering system, which requires a photo and finger scan of pupils who opt into the scheme.

The futuristic technology was put in place last term for Years 7-10 and will be rolled out to the rest of the school next month.

But the move sparked an angry reaction among some parents and they are calling for the system to be scrapped.

Political party UKIP has now joined the parents’ campaign and two public meetings will take place this weekend to discuss what action to take next.

UKIP Chester chairman Peter Lowe said: “There is lots of concern amongst parents about this. They are worried about security, identity theft and there are questions that need answering.

“Where is the data stored? Who is responsible for looking after it? What security arrangements are in place?

“Identity theft is a big issue and there is a risk the data could be stolen and used by criminals. These things do happen.

“This is just one example of the many things happening that are affecting peoples liberties.”

Mr Lowe said he wanted all parents to be made fully aware of the potential implications of the new system.

He said: “These systems have been creeping in through the back door since 2006 and there is widespread concern about them.

“It was brought in at short notice at Blacon High School and parents do not feel they were properly consulted.”

In June, the Leader was contacted by concerned parents after they received letters from the Melbourne Road school informing them the system was being brought in.

One father, who asked not to be named to protect his child’s identity, said: “Why is it necessary for young people who live in a supposed free country to hand over their personal data and have it stored on a database?

“This is out of order – I don’t see why it has been brought in. My biggest question is where is this data stored and who has access to it?

“If it was necessary would the school hand it over to higher powers if it was needed. This is not acceptable to me – it’s like Big Brother.”

Headteacher Sue Yates said all parents were sent information specifically explaining how the cashless system works.

She said: “This makes it clear that it is not a fingerprint as used by the police. It is an image that is a mathematical algorithm which simply shows the measurement of the finger.

“It states specifically that data is not held by the school and is discarded as soon as the image is taken and only the numbers are retained which cannot be reinterpreted back into the finger’s image.

“When a pupil leaves school the algorithm is deleted from the school system.

Mrs Yates said the system would ensure a “quicker and more efficient process” in the school’s diner and bistro.

“It is a system that is frequently used in other schools and indeed many other schools in the borough and nationally have already introduced this system highly successfully,” she said.

Biometric guidelines

EDUCATION ministers have issued all schools with new guidelines on the use of biometric information.

The advice comes into effect from September 2013 and makes clear schools will no longer be able to use pupils’ biometric data without parental consent.

Pupils will also have the right to refuse to participate in the schemes.

Schools minister Nick Gibb said: “Biometrics in schools is a sensitive issue. We want schools to be in no doubt of their responsibilities when it comes to young people’s personal data.

“I have heard from many angry parents after they have learned that their children’s personal data was being used by schools without their knowledge.

“The new legislation gives the power back to parents, as it requires parental consent before the information can be collected.”

Consultation on the draft advice closed on August 3 and the final guidelines will be published later this year.

See full story in the Chester Leader

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