Big Brother is here!
July 23, 2002 9:23 AM   Subscribe

Big Brother is here! Close to a thousand Brirish schools have collected their student`s fingerprints via library scanners; all this without the consent or knowledge of the parents. Please commend my success in refraining from oversentionalizing the story. YES!
posted by ( .)(. ) (15 comments total)
null sweat, boobs. it's the atrocity that sells itself!
posted by mcsweetie at 9:55 AM on July 23, 2002

It sounds like a Good Idea™ that went wrong.

The schools shold have told the parents what they were doing, how the system worked, and what safeguards were in place to protect privacy.

I'm surprised the system was in use as long as it was - I can see a kid coming home talking about the cool new "checkout" scanner in the library. How did that West London discover what was going on?
posted by jazon at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2002

Hmm.. something seems wrong when school systems determined track those that participate in afterschool activities as well those who want to read. Top this with my feeling that public school was utterly pointless and i don't see the point in encouraging kids to go to school. But i keep forgetting... school is a metaphor for an institutional babysitter, right? Silly me...
posted by zegooober at 10:06 AM on July 23, 2002

in grade school they took our fingerprints in case we were ever, ack, kidnapped. but it was with our parents' consent.
posted by donkeyschlong at 10:18 AM on July 23, 2002

I remember a grade-school incident of my own where a policeman came in and fingerprinted all of us. I'm very fuzzy on details---mostly I remember my smudgy black fingers---but I'm sure it was part of a Officer Friendly Visits For Show-and-Tell sort of thing. (Or maybe it was "in case we were ever kidnapped," though hell if I can see what good my fingerprints could do in that case; perhaps they should have just implanted all of us with Lojack transmitters?) Can't remember whether parents had to give permission or not, but it's reassuring to know that if I ever decide to go on a crime spree, someone somewhere has my fingerprints from before I was old enough to object as a matter of principle. Yuck.
posted by Sapphireblue at 10:48 AM on July 23, 2002

my parents took me to be fingerprinted in jr high. i remember specifically being told (by the fingerprinters) that they would only be used if i was lost, never as evidence of a crime.
posted by o2b at 11:06 AM on July 23, 2002

they took our fingerprints in case we were ever, ack, kidnapped

I always thought that this practice was sort of creepy. Pretty much the only way its going to help is in matching a corpse with its parents...
posted by Iax at 11:10 AM on July 23, 2002

Oh, yes, Big Brother has reared its ugly head in the form of ... dum dum dum dum ... the school library scanner. Never mind that its purpose was to allow students to check out books without a library card, and that there's no suggestion that it was linked to anything other than the school library database.
posted by pardonyou? at 11:25 AM on July 23, 2002

The point, pardonyou?, is that it's unnecessary and unethical to link something as powerful and symbolic as a fingerprint to something as simple and important to daily life as a book. In addition, parents were not actively involved in the decision-making process. The ethical thing to do would have been to give each individual family the choice.

Libraries have worked perfectly well for hundreds of years with pathetic pieces of paper, and lately work well with barcode-printed cards. A librarian could even - if they were really adventurous - type the student's name into a computer. (Though in actual fact the "Junior Librarian" system discussed in the article is designed for schools without librarians).

If you're running a military base or a secret GM foods greenhouse, perhaps you need biometric scanning. If you're introducing "Harry Potter" to elementary school children, I reckon a pen and paper will probably do the job. Having said that, think of all the cool things teachers could do with their DNA...
posted by skylar at 11:47 AM on July 23, 2002

This is in Britain, and when they're 16 and come to Texas same thing if they so want to drive. Like Texas, they scan your thumb. No, this is not right, yet it is a modern form of ID today. Think, common sense, what is wrong here?, "I'm checking out my first book to read, miss librarian, were can I sign my name I've practiced it and now I get to use it." Librarian, "no son use your thumb, please." Here is the the lame thing going on here with this problem. Sure modern technology is fine yet lets not ruin the fun. I always thought it was so neat to see who I knew that read the same book as me.
posted by thomcatspike at 1:07 PM on July 23, 2002

skylar, my point was that proclaiming that "Big Brother is here" based on the fact that a school library is using a thumb scanner to keep track of books is about as convincing as claiming "the world is coming to an end" based on the fact that asteroids sometimes whiz by within a few million miles of earth. Orwell is surely rolling over in his grave. I'm not addressing whether the school should or should not be doing it -- I'm just saying that the facts don't support the conclusion (notwithstanding "( .)(. )"'s ironic claim that he had refrained from "oversentionalizing" the story).
posted by pardonyou? at 1:20 PM on July 23, 2002

This is why my parents had my fingerprints removed.
posted by hackly_fracture at 1:35 PM on July 23, 2002

pardonyou? I think the point was that the fingerprints were stored in the school's main databases and not just the library's. And in fact Big Brother is here, the parents were not given notice that the fingerprints would be stored for anything other than checking out books. I'd imagine that after the kids were done with elementary school their prints would be erased from the databases (why would the school keep them?), so no harm no foul, at least in theory. Well guess what, now it might take some heavy lobbying and maybe even a court order to get rid of those prints.

As for not oversensationalizing, I tried my best ;-)

For future reference please refer to me as either Bob, or, as some people around here call me (intuitively), "boobs" or "boobies".

All in jest!
posted by ( .)(. ) at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2002

Why is it that, every time it's discovered that monitoring of the public is taking place without citizens' knowledge or permission, the inevitable "Big Brother is watching you!" statement is made. If you've read 1984, you should realize that everyone in Orwell's society knew they were actively being monitored; it wasn't some horrible conspiracy the Government was attempting to cover up.

That said, the paranoia in this thread -- coupled with the "why should the US Government know where resident aliens live?" thread and the Flight 93 conspiracy theorist thread -- is astounding. I fully expect the next debate to be about putting return addresses on envelopes or having to sign the back of credit cards.

Back on topic, I suspect the library chose the fingerprint scanners rather than library cards because kids are constantly forgetting or losing their cards, resulting in the inconvenience of having to reissue cards to students. When I was in school, I would've loved a fingerprint scan as opposed to carrying a library card AND a student ID, and *gasp* remembering my uniquely-identifiable student number (#33301!)

Yes, it is regrettable that parents were not consulted before the fingerprinting but, if anything, I would be outraged at the fact that the school decided to spend so much on biometric systems, which generally have a usable lifetime of <100,000 scans. And that figure is likely reduced greatly by the fact that the primary users are children with little greasy, grubby, snot-covered hands.
posted by Danelope at 2:42 PM on July 23, 2002

Golly, you mean your uniquely identifiable student number wasn't your Social Security Number? Never you mind that Federal law says the SSN is ONLY to be used for tax purposes....

Oh wait, I'm off target. Sorry. Taking the fingerprints of a minor without parental/guardian consent is BAD regardless of the purpose or database mechanism. That is all. Hell what's next? PAP smears without parental consent? Dental X-rays? That would identify the kids, wouldn't it?
posted by ilsa at 10:05 PM on July 23, 2002

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