Big Brother is watching you.... Council to fingerprint staff as they clock in for work

Hundreds council workers are set to be fingerprinted before they are allowed to work, it has been revealed.

Staff at Westminster Council in London will 'clock in' by scanning their fingerprints in what is believed to be the first scheme of its type in Britain.

But today civil liberties and data protection watchdogs warned the scheme had 'Big Brother' overtones and should be abandoned.

Some of the workers affected are already considering industrial action over the plan. About 200 employees in the street management services department, including the borough's road sweepers, will be asked to provide their fingerprints.

A source at the authority said staff would have to swipe a finger across a wall-mounted box linked to a computer system. The prints would then be logged and matched against staff records.

Unlike traditional clocking-in machines, employees will not be able to dodge the system by getting others to swipe in for them.

The council says it wants to protect staff by making sure they know where they are. But Unison, the public sector union, argued that the council was introducing the machines because it did not trust its staff.

The source said: 'The computer will work out who is, and who is not, where they should be.

'Very quickly managers will be able to work out if there are any gaps in attendance   -  in other words if someone is skiving or not.'

The revelation will add to growing public concern about how personal data is collected, stored and used by organisations.

Privacy campaigners claim the Government is eroding Britain's traditional freedoms with creeping surveillance and data collection.

In July, plans for a massive database that would detail every phone call, email, text message, internet search and on-line purchase in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime were condemned as a step too far.

The loss of personal data records held by several government agencies has further eroded the public's trust.

Civil liberties campaign group Liberty said there was no guarantee that the details of Westminster employees would not be passed to police.

Policy director Gareth Crossman said: 'This is excessive, unnecessary and disproportionate. Anyone who does give their fingerprints to their employer should be aware that these things  invariably become a source for the police.

'Fingerprinting used to be something we did to criminals but now we do it to everyone from children returning their library books to road sweepers.'

Union representatives have labelled the fingerprinting at Westminster 'Orwellian' and warned workers not to use the biometric devices. They are seeking talks with senior managers.

Stephen Higgins, Westminster Unison assistant branch secretary, said: 'We simply do not trust the city council to hold this information securely and see no justification for such a scheme.'

Phil Vaughan, the union's branch secretary at Westminster, said the system was 'based on mistrust'.

He added: 'We can see no justifiable reason why it is necessary for the council to obtain such personal data, and Westminster Unison shall resist such draconian measures.'

Dean Ingledew, Westminster's director of community protection, said: 'As an employer we have a duty of care to know where our staff are, that they are safe and that council taxpayers are getting value for money from staff who are working properly.

'The system mainly applies to members of staff who are street-based and often work alone and late at night and many say they actually feel safer with this system because if anyone fails to sign in or out it is flagged up immediately and calls are made to find out where they are.'

The Information Commissioner's Office said: 'The collection of more and more personal data represents a greater potential risk to individuals.' (Daily Mail Reporter, 9.12.2008)

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