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Microsoft Education Privacy United Kingdom Your Rights Online

Thumbprints Used To Check Books Out of School Library 355

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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  • by DustCollector ( 903185 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:09AM (#32418684) Homepage

    I briefly worked at a company which used a hand scanner in lieu of a badge. It was unwisely put between your desk and the restroom. It's no secret not everyone washes their hands after relieving themselves, so I avoided eating lunch at my desk unless I had a bottle of hand sanitizer with me.

    Now imagine 4 year olds, touching everything and sucking their thumb, and then checking out a book.

    Technologically, scanners work well enough. Implementation, however, is done by the foolish.

  • by Mabbo ( 1337229 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:13AM (#32418756)
    Your fingerprint, like most biometrics data, is not what I would call "Private information". You leave it lying around all of the place, all the time. Your face isn't private, in fact it's probably the most public thing about you. Your DNA is very much the same: your drop it everywhere. The only thing that makes it pseudo-private is that it's generally a bit hard to obtain- but not really.

    If I were a kid at that school, I'd start signing out a lot of books under a teacher's fingerprint. I'm sure a lot of them have seen the mythbusters episode where they do that sort of thing. It's not difficult.

  • LIBRARY CARD (Score:3, Interesting)

    by yaDad ( 925894 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:16AM (#32418786)
    what the hell is wrong with a library CARD. hasnt this been working for years. if you cant keep up with a library card you might have problems later on in life. further than that why not just use the NAME of the student who has the book. IDIOTS!
  • Re:Big Deal (Score:4, Interesting)

    by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:18AM (#32418824) Journal

    This story is about the UK, but maybe it's been used in NZ for ages. And does a school library really need automated checkout? The library at the school I attended from ages 7-11 did not have a librarian, the class teacher wrote the book that you borrowed in a book. The school that I went to from 11-18 had a librarian and either she or one of the sixth formers doing library duty would enter your name in the computer that tracked books. This popped up your photograph, for quick verification. No library card needed.

    The school that I went to from ages 3-7 didn't have a library. Reading age changes quickly when you're that young and so each class had its own reading books, which children could borrow if they asked the teacher. Again, no need to remember a PIN or library card.

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

    by maxume ( 22995 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:18AM (#32418826)

    Do you think there is a high risk of students lifting fingerprints in order to steal books?

  • Re:Next up (Score:4, Interesting)

    by vxice ( 1690200 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:20AM (#32418852)
    You get what you pay for. This just in $5 fake cameras, you know the ones with a single AA battery that runs a little LED so that the criminal thinks the camera isn't a $5 fake hooked up to nothing, fail to catch criminals %100 of the time. From the way that was written it sounds like the author just doesn't like biometrics and chose the lowest quality systems he could find. I go to a college with a biometrics program and know several people working on what is called "liveness detection" or measures in the systems to prevent fake fingers that would easily foil the fakes that this guy made. The first and simplest, while not the most accurate but simplest never is, way would be to include a temperature sensor and reject and print present with non standard human body temperature accounting for fevers and cold fingers during winter. The next method commonly used would be to apply a charge across the finger, there is a specific range of resistance expected from a human body. Other methods include detecting for perspiration, more sensitive scanners that can see the 3d structure of the fingerprint and many others. Like I said you get what you pay for and that needs to be taken into account. That article you linked to mentioned that you could fool the system with $10 worth of household goods, well what use is that if there is no way you are going to steal $10 worth of books. Who really steals books from a high school library. Security is not about being %100 secure but making it harder and more expensive to break the security than either a) its worth or b) than it is to get the other guy.
  • by Nakor BlueRider ( 1504491 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:29AM (#32418964)
    Not that I'm against this use of thumbprinting, but I wonder how effective the mathematical template is at maintaining privacy. Theoretically even if they don't have the actual thumbprint on file, could they not still check a thumbprint they find somewhere against their student database by running it through the same template and seeing if it matches the result of any of the students' prints? They may not have the students' thumbprints themselves to compare against, but they still effectively have a hash from it. 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.
  • Re:Riiights... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <> on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:32AM (#32419006) Homepage

    Of course, if they really meant it, then they would allow the assignment of absolutely outrageous damages to the school when this is not done. Very simple, you make the school system, superintendent, principal and vice principal jointly and separately responsible for ensuring that the data is erased and removed from any/all backups within 21 days of the student no longer being enrolled.

    If the school is found to be in non-compliance, they shall be jointly and separately responsible to pay damages in the amount of $250,000 to the student or legal guardian, for every 7 day period in excess of 21 days that the information is found to still exist.

    make sure that this applies not only to school controlled systems, but contracted systems in the control of 3rd parties on behalf of the school.

    You put that into place and I GUARANTEE that this will not end up being an issue.


  • There is no Privacy (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Iffie ( 1410897 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:36AM (#32419066)
    It is sickening how technologists assume the best in people while taking precautions for the worst all the time. We are approching a time where everything anyone has ever learned or been exposed to is known. Grooming and vetting, unexcidental experiences etc. can all be arranged if needed..We may be past the point of no return, and may only become witness to the consolidation of basicly autonomous techonolgy determining our lives..
  • Re:Next up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:44AM (#32419216)

    My local Community College library has an even more retarded system than all this... when you check out, you write your name and student ID# on a sheet. The problem is that the first letter, last name, and last four digits of your school id# is your username and the student id# is the default password (no prompt to change it either) into the school system (blackboard, registering/dropping/withdrawing classes, looking at GPA and past grades, viewing and requesting transcipt...).

    This sheet is in complete view and what's worse is the library houses the computer lab and has like 50 computers. I tried telling the librarians what they are doing is completely retarded and got the response "We always did it this way". Which is strange because most librarians I know are forward thinking and security minded. I would have demonstrated with a random name but I didn't feel like getting accusations of hacking, even with my own name so I left it alone. To this day they still do it like this.

  • Re:Next up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by vlm ( 69642 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @11:55AM (#32419382)

    Who really steals books from a high school library.

    Well, I don't, at least not for myself.

    But, you see, I was an absolute monstrous little hell raiser in HS, back in the olden days, when "glam rock" was new, not retro. I was absolutely bored to tears, unless I was pulling off some kind of secret agent caper, or occasionally just anarchy for the sake of anarchy due to extreme boredom. I won all practical joke wars, and I was a bit of a bastard about it.

    I would not be surprised to discover that certain jerks, cheating ex-girlfriends, bullies, and school personnel had, oddly enough, checked out and never returned the schools ENTIRE COLLECTION of gay/bi/curious/trans literature, suicide prevention lit, STD awareness lit (the joy of syphilis, etc) drug abuse lit... Whom would ever guess that the schools biggest jock read and kept every biography of Freddie Mercury, Liberace, etc.

    Oh and I'm sure that a modern school would never electronically access "private" library records and call kids in for counseling. I pulled that maneuver off decades ago during a practical joke war with a friend, took him awhile to forgive me...

  • by tompaulco ( 629533 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @02:37PM (#32421782) Homepage Journal
    Imagine trying to match a child's dirty fingerprint to a database.
    In the real world of forensics, a print does not lead you to a single person, but brings up a list of possible matches for a human to look at and evaluate. The same is true in a biometric reader. This is why every biometric meter I have come into contact with also requires you to enter a pin number or other information in order to verify your identity. The biometric data is useless by itself, but once the PIN is entered, it is able to verify that the PIN is associated with a group of possible matches that include your fingerprint.
    Now, they would either have to employ a forensics specialist to look at all the possible matches from the kids fingerprint, or they could just have the librarian ask the kid their name.
    Reading the story, they are already doing the latter in addition to the scanning, so the biometric system is only there to verify if the name given really is a possible match for the fingerprint given.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @02:43PM (#32421884)

    Are your hands usually dry? I mean, do you have dry skin on your hands. You might try washing you hands and then immediately trying. Very dry hands causes fewer readible "points", although wet hands has the same effect (plus might fry something) If you wet your thumb, wiped it off, then tried it, I bet it would take.

  • Re:Hidden agenda (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SleazyRidr ( 1563649 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @02:51PM (#32422004)

    My mother often makes use of the fact that the library keeps a record of the books she has checked out. When she picks one up that looks kinda familiar but she isn't sure if she's read it or just a similar book, she can see if she's checked it out before, rather than reading the first couple of chapters to realize that she actually has read it.

  • Re:Next up (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dcollins ( 135727 ) on Tuesday June 01, 2010 @04:04PM (#32422972) Homepage

    "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?"

    Consider this a "Give unto Caesar those things which are Caesar's" type situation. If you want to track library books or student attendance or whatever, you have a responsibility to generate a User ID, give it to me, and expect to get it back on request. Same for IRS taxation or Social Security or whatever. If it is stolen or mis-identified then you have the capacity and responsibility to provide a new one that works.

    My biometrics (skin, blood type, fingerprints, iris scans) are personal and private information, existed prior to any government institution, and should not be required to be turned over to said institutions.

Nothing is finished until the paperwork is done.