Biometrics

After the Autumn half term 2016, we will be introducing cashless tills in the school. Students will be able to use biometrics to pay for items. Below is more detail about how biometrics work. 

Biometrics FAQs

Q: What is biometrics?

A: Biometrics is information which identifies pupils uniquely, usually by placing a finger on a fingerprint scanner. This information is held in a central database located within a school and used for making cashless payments for consumable items in the school.

Q: Why use biometrics?

A: With a Biometric system, students cannot borrow credentials from each other. Queues are reduced, because the rate of identification of students is quickened. Students need no longer carry cards, remember PIN numbers, or use cash to buy items.

Q: Does the system record images of individual fingerprints?

A: No, the system does not store images of fingerprints, and never will. Only mathematical representations of certain points of a finger image are recorded, typically between ten and sixty depending on the characteristics of the finger. This mathematical data is encrypted and is called a template. The data is extremely secure in its encrypted form, and even if it were not encrypted it would be impossible to recreate the original fingerprint image from the stored data.

Q: Is it possible to recreate a fingerprint from the data stored in the system?

A: No, the system only stores a short string of encrypted numbers, too little data for the original print to be reconstructed.

Q: How secure is the stored data? What would happen if somebody stole it?

A: The database is protected by a licence key, meaning that the database and any backup of its contents can only be accessed on licensed hardware. The hardware is stored in the school’s own secure facility, so that the encrypted data is only available to the registered licensee. Even if a school’s security were to be compromised and a backup of the database stolen, the encrypted data would still be unreadable, even by another school.

Q: If I lose my bankcard then it can be replaced. But I can’t replace my finger. If a template is stolen, have I lost my identity forever?

A: The simple answer is no. The fingerprint template stored in the database is merely a string of encrypted numbers. If this string of numbers were to be removed from the database, it would be useless, because it cannot be recognised as a fingerprint. A fingerprint scanner checks for a real finger – it does not recognise a string of numbers.

Q: Could the police or a court of law use the fingerprints stored in the database?

A: The system does not store fingerprint images. The recorded templates are comprised of a set of numbers which represent each person. This set of numbers will be unique within populations of hundreds, or a few thousands, of people. However, in a wider population the system is not accurate enough for the templates to be usable for forensic matching with any degree of certainty. A court of law would not be able to use this information as evidence.

Q: What happens about twins, or someone who has hurt their finger?

A: Even identical twins have different fingerprints, and will not be mistaken for each other by the system. In very rare cases there are people who are born without fingerprints. Occasionally someone’s fingerprints may deteriorate because of exposure to some chemical products, and sometimes temperature changes can cause reduction in fingerprint quality. However, a cut finger would not cause any problem for the system, unless it resulted in major disfigurement.

Q: Is there any alternative for pupils who are unable to provide biometric data for some reason, such as a disability?

A: Alternative identification methods, such as smart cards and name and photo identification, are always available in the system. Pupils unable to provide biometric data can opt to use one of these methods, as can any pupil who prefers not to use biometrics.

Q: If I object to my child being fingerprinted, what will happen?

A: The school will issue any pupil who wishes to opt out of the biometric system with an alternative method of identification. The system recognises a number of identification methods, including smartcards and PIN numbers. However, in the case of smartcards there is a small cost associated and alternatively methods are less secure and take more time.

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