Authoritarian Culture

This is something I have to blog about just because I find it so utterly outrageous that I can’t quite contain it.

My old school (King Edward VI Five Ways, for those playing at home) has recently announced plans to introduce a “biometric cashless catering system”. They plan to scan the fingerprints of pupils, produce a hash of the data, and use that for access to the pupil’s account on the catering system.

I actually wish I was making this up. There are plans to convert the library over to this system, and to use it for sixth form registration, as well as plans further out to control access to school buildings.

This is so far beyond objectionable that it’s not even funny. The headmaster was always a bit of a ridiculously pompous bastard, but even he’s outdone himself this time. There is nothing in any of these proposals that couldn’t have been done equally as well with a card-with-RFID-chip system, no doubt for a much smaller price tag, which would save the need for a biometric database.

The inherent privacy issues of the school keeping such a database of fingerprint data are extremely troubling; sure, it’s a one-way hash, the original fingerprint can’t be recovered from what they store, but any given fingerprint can still be run against that database to find matches; the system wouldn’t work at all otherwise. I have a terrible feeling the school wouldn’t be too bothered by police requests to hand over any such information.

It deeply disturbs me that our culture as a whole seems to be bowing to the notion that organisations should have ever more information about us. I would say expecting children to hand over their fingerprints is crossing a really rather serious line.

Now, to calm down, a picture of a sleeping cat:


4 thoughts on “Authoritarian Culture

  1. What was wrong with smartcards?

    Was there any consultation about it? I wouldve thought that theres a few unhappy parents after that letter was sent out…

  2. No idea. If they wanted to upgrade the system to make it faster, I would have gone with RFID-enabled smartcards myself.

    I don't think there was much consultation, and apparently there are almost no unhappy parents, which worries me equally as much.

  3. RFID really is awesome for things like this, yeah. I wonder how accurate the fingerprint system will be. If it needs a few attempts to recognise someone, then it'll make it slower if anything…

    I'm shocked there was no consulation, and frankly amazed that no parents have complained.

  4. It sounds ridiculous. Utterly ridiculous. It took my brother five attempts to even log a matching thumbprint, and that's before you even start on the cost or ethics of the thing.

    In other news, awwwww, cat!

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