Parents to be fingerprinted by nursery schools

Parents are to be fingerprinted when they pick their children up from nursery school, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.

Up to 50 nurseries and playgroups have already signed up for the new security measures, thought to be the first time parents have been targetted in this way.

Civil libertarians have branded the decision a "huge overeaction".

The new entry system requires people who collect their children to place their finger on a scanner, to make sure that only nominated individuals can get through secure entrances.

Kidsunlimited, the nursery chain, will be rolling out the new technology to its 50 playgroups.

Honeycomb Solutions, the security firm behind the technology, say it is an effective way to monitor who is on their premises.

The scanners work by converting parents' finger prints into a code number. This number enables the system to recognise the finger, without storing any biometric data.

The company claims that the database cannot be accessed by any human, similar to the way banks protect credit card pin numbers.

Peter Churchley of Caring Daycare, a group of eight nursery schools in Surrey that cater for children aged 3 months to 5 years, said: "We've had the Honeycombe Solutions fingerprinting technology installed in two of our nurseries.

"Parents have reacted very positively to the moves and the security is a reassurace that the premises are secure for recognised people. I do think a greater number of nurseries will be thinking about finger printing. We also have CCTV camera."

Mr Churchley said that a package of five CCTV cameras and the fingerprinting systems costs 10,000.

The Government has issued guidance telling head teachers they have the right to collect pupils' biometric data for security reasons.

The information could be used to monitor attendance, control entry to the school building and allow pupils to take books out of libraries.

But the move continues to be criticised by civil liberty groups and opposition MPs, who fear that data may be stolen by identity thieves. Official guidance says that personal data, including fingerprints and eyeball scans, can be collected from pupils, although schools must consult parents before installing the technology.

Any information gathered will be subject to data protection laws and should not be shared with outside bodies, says the guidance.

However, the Government insists that using biometric data is an efficient way of tracking children during the school day. It is estimated that at least 200 schools used fingerprint scans, before any official guidance was published. But this is thought to be the first time that parents have been targeted.

However there have been concerns about parents' privacy and campaigners have said the decision is a "huge overreaction".

Dan Norris, Labour MP for Wansdyke and a prominent child welfare campaigner, said: "My instinct is that is some what of an overreaction. It strikes me quite a strong reaction to a problem that could be managed in a less confrontational way. Fingerprinting is quite a big deal."

George Bathurst, Managing Director of Honeycomb Solutions said: "This cutting edge system will revolutionise the way we keep our children safe by ensuring that only authorised people can get into the classroom. Even when you have authorisation staff will know who you are, and when arrived. This can be monitored centrally, providing an additional layer of security. We predict that within the next five years this system will become common place across the country." (10.29.2008, Urmee Khan)