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Thumbprints Used To Check Books Out of School Library 355

Posted by samzenpus
from the we-also-need-a-blood-sample dept.
krou writes "Junior students at Higher Lane Primary in Whitefield, Greater Manchester, are in a trial of a system that uses their thumbprints to check out and return books from a library. The thumbprints are 'digitally transformed into electronic codes, which can then be recognized by a computer program.' The system was developed by Microsoft, and is being trialled elsewhere in the country. NO2ID condemned the system, saying it was appalling, and that 'It conditions children to hand over sensitive personal information.' The headmaster has defended the scheme, saying, 'We have researched this scheme thoroughly. It is a biometric recognition system and no image of a fingerprint is ever stored. It is a voluntary system. The thumbprint creates a mathematical template. All parents have been written to and we have told them what the system is all about. From the responses we have had there has been overwhelming support. We hold a lot of information about children because we are a school. This is no different.'"
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Thumbprints Used To Check Books Out of School Library

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  • Hidden agenda (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RobVB (1566105) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:04AM (#32418592)

    I'm fairly certain there's a hidden agenda here. They say it is a voluntary system, but what they mean is that privacy conscious students won't have access to the library. Libraries hold books. Books hold information. Information leads to knowledge. Knowledge is power.

    They're taking the power away from the privacy conscious people. It's a conspiracy, I tells ya!

    And no, I'm not paranoid. It's not paranoia if they really ARE out to get you.

    *looks over his shoulder*

  • Re:Hidden agenda (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume (22995) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:11AM (#32418712)

    Thumbprints are personally identifiable. That does not make them private.

    Or are you wearing latex gloves right now?

    Or is it that you think the library should be prevented from keeping a record of the students that they have loaned books out to?

  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:3, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:12AM (#32418734)
    Except that in this case, it is a thumbprint combined with other identifying information (like a name). They claim the information is not stored, but I am sure that buried in the contract there is a clause allowing law enforcement to arbitrarily request the thumbprints of particular students. Sure, they could always pick through the trash to get the thumbprints, but this system makes it that much easier, further tipping the balance of power away from the citizens.

    Of course, there are plenty of other ways that the government manages to get this sort of information, but that does not mean it is OK to add to the problem.
  • by kieran (20691) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:12AM (#32418736)

    As far as I'm concerned, that's enough to move this project from "appalling" to "kinda awesome". I'm not sure what (the otherwise excellent) NO2ID are on about here.

  • Re:Hidden agenda (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AdmiralXyz (1378985) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:14AM (#32418762)
    Your post almost looks like it could be sarcasm*, but you never can tell on this site, so I want to point out that it's not like libraries were havens for privacy before. You could never just walk into a library and anonymously check out a book: you had to have a library card, and the record of everything you've ever checked out was associated with that card, and therefore, with you. The only difference here is that your thumbprint is being substituted for the card.

    Move along, folks, nothing to see here but Slashdot sensationalism.

    * And if it is, then this post is aimed at the people that modded you Insightful.
  • by Chrisq (894406) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:15AM (#32418776)
    I know a couple of schools that use the system, and unfortunately a large number of thumbs are "unscannable". This means they are singled out to carry cards or something else, which (like almost anything else that makes kids stand out from the crowd) embarrass them.
  • Re:Big Deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:17AM (#32418790)
    "You try to get a six year old to remember a pin number or library card."

    Or, you could have an adult help them. Like, a teacher, or a parent, or the librarian. Why are we suddenly expecting 6 year olds to go to the library without any supervision?
  • No opt-out (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:17AM (#32418794)

    The problem with bad ideas like this is that there is no way for those kids (or their parents) who think such Orwellian shenanigans set a bad precedent to opt out. Some idiot administrator has made the final call, and now, if you want to use the library, you have to conform. This is what schools teach. In addition to mediocre math, science, art, music, and physical education; schools primarily exist to teach the value of conformity. You must agree to abide by arbitrary and often quite stupid administrative decisions, and furthermore, you must learn to accept that this is the way of the world. No-one ever distinguished themselves by being like everyone else. Is that a lesson you'll learn in public school? Not a chance.

  • Re:Hidden agenda (Score:4, Insightful)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:17AM (#32418806) Homepage Journal

    Or is it that you think the library should be prevented from keeping a record of the students that they have loaned books out to?

    When I was a kid we were given personal identification. It was just 2 words, easy to remember, with the second word being shared among my family and the first word being unique to my generation in the family. We would share it with the librarians so they could keep track of who borrowed each book.

    I remember it working quite well. Whatever happened to that system?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:20AM (#32418842)
    The issue at hand is more than a mere privacy concern. It is a subtle yet existing political move, that tries to mould a generation into thinking that giving up privacy over convenience is a "good thing".
  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:21AM (#32418856)

    Thumbprints shouldn't be treated as sensitive personal information, they are too hard to control.

    In a civilized society, fingerprinting is what you do to criminals.

  • Re:Hidden agenda (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume (22995) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:22AM (#32418874)

    The librarians got lazy.

    I really don't see what difference you see between a name and a thumbprint, they are both essentially public information that is roughly tied to a certain person. I suppose there is some raving-loony scenario where a nefarious criminal manages to pull a thumbprint out of the database and plant it at a crime scene with other corroborating evidence during a time period where the owner of the thumbprint does not have a decent alibi, but I don't find myself breaking into a sweat over it.

  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:24AM (#32418896)
    "as long as it is not completely brain dead"

    Interesting assumption.

    "library they use is likely already keeping a record of the books they check out"

    True, but now it is a record that is tied to something very difficult to change or erase: a fingerprint. What guarantee is there that the police will not be able to enter the school and demand that certain fingerprints be recorded for their use? Perhaps at the time, the police will have an innocent motive (a risk of someone kidnapping the child), but now they have fingerprints on record for someone who is not a criminal.
  • by JSBiff (87824) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:29AM (#32418968) Journal

    Personally, I'm less worried about the 'privacy' of my thumbprint, and more worried that, generally, it's too *easy* to get my thumbprint.

    While this probably isn't much of a worry with a school library checkout system, I'm worried that with something like a thumbprint, which never changes, eventually it gets too easy for someone to get access to your thumbprint and 'forge' authentication/authorization.

    It's the same problem I have with the use of Social Security No.s - you start out life, and your SS # is basically secret - your parents know it, and it's in the SS Admin.'s computers. Right there, though, because it is in government computers, potentially thousands of people have access to it. Now, your parents sign you up for school, and they enter your SS # info into the local school district database. Then you get a savings account at the bank, and they ask for your SS #. You apply for jobs, and they ask for your social security number. You sign up for a credit card, or a checking account, an IRA, or an application for an apartment, and they ask for your Social Security number. You apply to college, and each college wants your SS#.

    By the time your 25 or 30, your Social Security number is in dozens of different databases and millions of employees have access to those databases, and your SS # is basically worthless as a 'secret' which identifies you - it's no longer secret.

    You could have the same problem with biometric identification (although at first glance, that might seem impossible), because, fundamentally, biometric information such as a fingerprint, retina scan, or DNA sequence, is reproducible data - ultimately, no system can guarantee that the actual finger or eye or DNA was scanned - all that the 'server' can verify is that the correct 'data' corresponding to previously recorded data, was transmitted over the network to the server. So, compromise a terminal (or setup a computer which masquerades as a valid 'terminal'), then send the correct 'data' from that terminal, and the server will assume that the user's thumb or retina was scanned.

    I'm really can't offer any advice on a better alternative, but mark my words - if biometric identification becomes widespread, the identity thieves will not have too much difficulty adapting - as the biometric id becomes widespread, it will get harder and harder to keep the identification 'data' secret, and fraudsters will steal that data like any other bit of data, and misuse it.

    The *real* security threat is that people will start to get a stronger and stronger belief in the 'infallibility' of such biometric identification, and so people will lose the ability to repudiate false authorizations. Juries and judges, if they have too strong of an assurance on the evidence provided by biometric identification, may produce verdicts/rulings which unjustly penalize innocent people.

  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by maxume (22995) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:30AM (#32418976)

    So how frequently do you think it would actually happen?

  • by dummondwhu (225225) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:32AM (#32419010)
    Well then, we'd better hurry up and get rid of door knobs, vending machines, elevator buttons, and the myriad of other things that a lot of people touch on a daily basis. I'm sure that children aren't already touching each others toys, school supplies, desks, etc. already, though, so good catch on this one. In fact, we'd better hurry up and get them all into bubbles before the swine flu gets them!!

    Or maybe the librarian could just hit the reader with a little sanitizing wipe every so often. Germ phobia is hardly a reason not to do this. Not when a thumb print reader is just one more thing among a slew of others that a lot of children might touch in a day.
  • Re:Big Deal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [retawriaf]> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:33AM (#32419022) Homepage

    You try to get a six year old to remember a pin number or library card.

    Why the heck does a six year old need a library card or a PIN in the first place?
     
    The problem here is assuming that everything must be computerized... for no good reason other than everything must be computerized. When I was six, the teacher pulling a card from the pocket in the book, having me print my name, stamping the card and the book with with the due date, and then filing the card worked just fine.
     
    I'm no luddite or technophobe by any stretch, but sometimes electronic/automated systems are solutions in search of a problem.

  • Re:Big Deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:33AM (#32419030) Homepage Journal

    In the US, teachers literally don't have enough hours in the day to meet the requirements in many cases. Now you want them to be the librarian, too? Mind you, my school worked like your school, but I wouldn't say I received anything like education there. It was more like indoctrination. There was no personalized learning, everyone was forced into the same box even back then. I was in GATE (gifted education) and for kids my age participation was limited to using the speed-reading machine (in a group) and doing logic puzzles, doing all the same ones I might add, i.e. there was no personalized learning even there except for sixth-graders... which was the only year I didn't attend at that school, of course. The next place I went had nothing.

  • Re:Riiights... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by noidentity (188756) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:34AM (#32419036)
    Notice they said "details". Not "all information", just the details. As to what is a detail and what is not, the devil is in that.
  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:45AM (#32419232)
    So they store a hash...do you think it is impossible to compute that hash from a fingerprint I lift off of a cup? All the hash does is make it hard to compute the actual fingeprint, which is only a comfort if you are worried about someone stealing your biometric data -- but the other issue, the privacy issue, is not solved by hashing the data.
  • Re:Next up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @12:08PM (#32419572)
    Yes, but why on earth would they bother to spend that kind of money on something for which they already have a solution? For certain applications, the technology you're suggesting makes sense. But for books at a school library? Wouldn't it be a lot easier to just use a scan system like they do at our public library? Basically when you put a book on reserve a librarian places it in with the ones on hold and then you go pick it up off the shelf, scan it along with your card and are out the door. Sure it's more expensive than even more simple systems, but it's a lot less problematic than conditioning kids to think that it's normal to have to pass a biometric check to check out a book.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @12:13PM (#32419646)

    This would prevent them from producing the student's thumbprint from their hash and using it elsewhere, but not from finding a thumbprint somewhere in the school and comparing it to their database if they desired.

    Even worse, if the hashing algorithm were standardized enough, they could theoretically share the hashes with other government agencies.

    But back on the pro-privacy side of the coin, it's possible that the hash has a low enough level of detail that it's only useful for weak confirmation of identity. In that case, it would ideally produce way too many false positives when used on an unknown print but would still be reliable enough for controlling book check-out (which may have been even less secure prior to the fingerprint system).

    Even so, I can still imagine a nightmare scenario: All schools throughout the UK implement the system. All hashes are routinely forwarded to police databases. 30 years down the road, a good bit of the adult population's print hashes are in the system.

    A very serious, high profile crime occurs. The prints at the scene don't match any full prints on file (recorded from previous arrests). As a plan B, the police run the thumb print through the hashing system and compare it to the information collected from schools. 1000 matches pop up. 600 are ruled out based on location. Another 300 are ruled out based on information in their medical files not matching forensic evidence at the scene (say, a drop of blood from the perpetrator). 100 suspects are left.

    Because the pressure's on, and they've narrowed it down to just 100 people, the police round them all up. 1 criminal and 99 innocent people are brought to the station and forcibly fingerprinted. The criminal's caught, but civil rights continue to erode.

    That being said, I don't consider the scenario all that likely. But it's still something to keep in mind, especially given the UK's privacy track record -- in particular, they seem to be going overboard with surveillance cameras.

  • Re:Next up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by vxice (1690200) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @12:23PM (#32419814)
    Did we have these people when cards were first used. Oh you are just conditioning them to produce a card to check out a book. Where is the problem there? Biometrics if done right could be cheaper, quicker and more convenient. Students don't have to remember their cards, their fingerprint is always at hand and prevents students from using other students cards. Enrolling students into a biometric system is cheap, cheaper than providing a new card to every student every year. At least over the long run. For what ever reason this school decided it would work for them.
  • Re:Not sensitive (Score:2, Insightful)

    by fireylord (1074571) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @12:47PM (#32420164)

    What are your concerns?

    My concerns are that this is teaching children that it is ok to hand over personally identifiable biometric data, that cannot be altered during their lifetime, to do innocuous things when they have done nothing wrong. What next? Voluntary fingerprinting while you wait at, a desk set up in your local shopping mall by policemen? It's the first step in creating an Orwellian society.

  • by RapmasterT (787426) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @01:45PM (#32421050)
    Honestly, I don't get the almost pathological paranoia people have surrounding the concept of privacy, without regard to the reality of it. Your fingerprints are not private, you leave thousands of them unsecured around you every day without a second thought...exactly why they should NOT be used as a security key, but that's a different discussion. People should be worried about the improper use and implementation of "security" methodologies, not acting like tinfoil hat wearing nutjobs because someone wants to store the fingerprints they leave on every doorknob in the city.

    Same goes for Social Security number paranoia. News flash people, your SSN is NOT private, it is not a secret, it is an identification number...nothing more. No different from the street address on your house, just more permanent. The problem comes from institutions USING it like it was secret, instead of a password or PIN. The solution is not to try to belatedly make SSN something it isn't and won't ever be, the solution is to refuse to accept companies using public information (your SSN number) as if it were secret.
  • Re:Big Deal (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AkiraRoberts (1097025) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @01:51PM (#32421134) Homepage
    Adults, having the benefit of maturity, are able to be stupid in ways which would be impossible for a child.
  • Re:Next up (Score:3, Insightful)

    by anyGould (1295481) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @04:54PM (#32423792)

    At every school I went to students just signed out books. School libraries themselves are usually quite useless, and an expensive high-tech upgrade like this one is just a vanity project.

    Generally because for some perverse reason it's easier for a library to get funding for high-tech security systems and multimedia gadgetry than it is to get funding for actual books.

  • Re:LIBRARY CARD (Score:2, Insightful)

    by yaDad (925894) <mikem70@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @05:15PM (#32424080)
    its just that it seems a little much to me...A library card worked fine for me for many years. If you forgot your card you didnt get a book. Dont see the need to inject technology to the simplest and basic concept of the library

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