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British Lords applaud Chinese on civil liberties

Peers back HK stance on child fingerprinting

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The UK government faced questions on school fingerprinting in the House of Lords yesterday, led by the accusation that they had a worse track record on civil liberties in this regard than the Chinese.

Baroness Joan Walmsley, Liberal Democrat education spokeswoman, said the government should look at the Chinese example

"The practice of fingerprinting in schools has been banned in China as being too intrusive and an infringement of children's rights, yet here it's widespread," she said, calling for the UK to ban school fingerprinting unless parents opted into it.

Lord Adonis, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Schools), Department for Education and Skills ignored the reference to the Chinese, but said it was normal for parents to be informed about fingerprinting, at which Walmsley screwed up her face in disbelief - a lack of parental consent in school fingerprinting has been central to the debate.

What's the point of taking children's fingerprints at all, asked another Lord.

Adonis said they were taken to control the issue of library books, taking registration or dishing out school meals. In the latter instance, he said, children who take free school meals would be able to do it without anyone knowing if they bought them with a fingerprint rather than a voucher, and so avoid any stigma that might be lumped on them for being poor. An alternative to a fingerprint scanner is a swipe card.

The Chinese decision to ban school fingerprints took a broader, longer-term view of the matter, the official who made the decision told The Register today.

Roderick Woo, the Hong Kong Privacy Commissioner, said: "A primary school has no business collecting data of that kind."

"The way we look at it is, is it really necessary to collect that data and is it's collection excessive, concerning their primary function [which is education]," he said.

"We always look at the issues and say, 'are there less privacy-intrusive methods to achieve the same ends?'," he said, suggesting that it might be enough to take someone's name at registration and a little excessive to take their paw print.

"One takes a longer view," he said. "And also whether it's a good education for young chaps growing up thinking whether privacy of their personal data is important or not. It's just a way of saying, 'I attended school' - surely there's a less intrusive way?"

However, Woo was also a little put out by being referred to as Chinese: "We are one country and two systems and this is very much a Hong Kong show."®

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