HUNDREDS of students at a Chester school have had their fingerprints taken to pay for meals using a high tech system which goes ‘live’ today.
Blacon High School introduced the controversial biometric technology to operate a ‘cashless canteen’ where the pupil places their finger on a pad to pay for their lunch.
The aim is to speed up transactions and keep an eye on students’ diets – as well as eliminating the stigma for pupils on free school meals by keeping the information confidential.
The school did not consult over the move and gave parents just a few days to consider whether to opt out, angering one father who is concerned about the implications for civil liberties.
The father, who describes the move as reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, was so concerned he handed out a leaflet at The Parade asking various questions.
He asked: “Why is a digitally stored fingerprint necessary to purchase a school meal? Will capturing fingerprints before people leave school become national policy? If you agree to this taking place will you have a surety the data will remain secure and not go on a data base elsewhere?”
Headteacher Susan Yates claimed Blacon High was among the last schools to begin operating the system across the authority. Just five students out of 500 had opted out.
She said fingerprint images were transformed into a mathematical algorithm. The images were then destroyed and the number could not be converted back into a fingerprint or be used by any other agency. The information was deleted when pupils left school.
“It’s not a fingerprint. What you have is your algorithm taken,” insisted Mrs Yates.
She said the problem with a smart card system was that students often lost them and could use someone’s else’s card.
When a student pays for a meal they put their finger on a computer-linked scanner which shows the server the student’s name, class and current account balance.
Food items are entered into the system from an itemised keyboard and the amount spent and the new cash balance shows on the display. Students who opt out can continue to use a smart card.
A spokeswoman for the Cheshire West and Chester Council education authority said: “Canteen arrangements are the responsibility of individual schools. The schools that operate a fingertip cashless system tell us they find it efficient and effective, with benefits including stopping money or cards being lost and speeding up lunchtime queues.”