Biometrics now hitting school toilets?!
A Sydney high school’s decision to install fingerprint scanners at the entrance to toilets has attracted controversy, blasted by privacy experts as “unreasonable and disproportionate”.
Moorebank High School’s strange solution to ‘curb vandalism’ in toilets has been to install fingerprint scanning technology at the entrances to track student movements and locations.
The radical decision to implement a “fingerprint data collection system” came after one particular toilet block was targeted by ‘poo vandals’, causing thousands of dollars worth of damage.
“Often, there’s been cases where people have thrown their poo on the ceiling,” high school student Daniel Scutella described to reporters, telling the press the facilities were often so disgusting he would regularly opt to wait until arriving home to use the toilet.
Yes, we are not making this up.
A bit of vandalism, for which cleaners are employed to take care of, now warrants fingerprint scanners.
Cybersecurity experts have blasted the high school for requiring students to submit biometric data.
Program lead of Digital Rights Watch, Samantha Floreani, says that despite the school’s intentions, the implementation of fingerprint scanners was an invasion of student privacy.
“If there were to be a data breach, for example — if the information was to be accessed by someone who’s not authorised, or if there was a leak, or if there was a hack — then suddenly you’ve got a student fingerprint being accessed by people who shouldn’t have access to that information,” Floreani said.
“Students should have the right to go to the bathroom without having their biometric information collected, and their movements constantly monitored,” Floreani said.
In response, the school says they consulted with parent groups about the construction of fingerprint scanners, telling them that the measures would “help reduce the instances of vandalism and eventually allow the school to use the savings to upgrade the toilet block”.
This type of move does indeed create all kinds of risks for those students.
For example, identity fraud, or the possibility of potentially being linked with other kinds of information.
A spokesperson from the Department of Education has confirmed that the fingerprint scanners are ‘not mandatory’, yet almost one thousand students have submitted their biometric data to use the toilets.
Sadly, this is yet another example of the creeping biometric world that is threatening school privacy.
THE CREEPING STATE
The advancement of technology in the classroom means your child is more vulnerable to traditional risks associated with the systems, and this story is not an isolated incident.
In 2017, we reported on how South Australian parents were told their concerns about privacy were ‘unwarranted’, after being advised children as young as five would have their fingerprints scanned at school as part of a biometric student attendance record-keeping program.
Parents from East Para Primary School told reporters they were sent a briefing sent by electronic newsletter informing them of the fingerprint scanning system.
The Australian Privacy Foundation raised concerns at the time about the increasing use of technology in schools involving the collection and storage of personal information – such as fingerprinting for school library services, swipe cards for monitoring attendance, and the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV).
It is not just physical surveillance that is a concern, either.
The digital realm is becoming just as dangerous.
A new trend is emerging in Australian classrooms towards ‘behaviour management apps’ that reward, penalise and compare young students learning curriculum, with the technology collating scorecards and storing data on your children instantaneously in the process.
Seesaw, a popular app founded by a former Facebook executive, sends parents regular updates on their children’s classroom progress, including test results, photos of their work and clips of class presentations.
Many parents are beginning to raise concerns that their children are being filmed, and who has access.
Nowhere has this shift been more prevalent than remote learning during COVID-19 lockdowns.
A recent investigation revealed over 4 million Australian children were exposed to surveillance and tracking from third-party apps during lockdown remote learning periods.
The study showed that 89 per cent of the educational technology, or “EdTech” products used on an international scale, could put children’s privacy at risk.
So you see, fingerprinting is a symptom of a larger disease plaguing Australian classrooms.
Let’s also not forget the effects that it may be having on children as well.
A study of nearly 200 adolescents showed that those who were very high users of smartphones had significantly more problematic behaviours, including somatic symptoms, attentional deficits, and aggression, than did those who were low users.
The best way to prevent this type of potential harm and danger reaching your children would be to take a stand with other parents in the school, or look at the continuously growing homeschooling community.
In Queensland, home schooling tripled in just five years before 2019, with parents citing increased educational needs and a shortage of resources in schools as main reasons to make the switch.
Ensure that you are informed of these systems, which may be coming to a school near you soon, and take the best measures you can to protect your children.
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