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Oakmeeds Cashless Catering System Chaos

03rd March 2011
By Peter Chapman

Oakmeeds Community College have introduced a cashless catering system. Pupils pay for their food via a fingerprint scanner. The price of the food is deducted from each pupil's individual account on the schools finance system. The accounts can be topped up online, or by cheque and cash via the finance office. The system collects data of all the purchases made by each pupil and can be shared with parents on request. The system is supposed to make purchasing food quicker, but does it?

Brian Drury, IT security consultant, 12 March 2007 - "If a child has never touched a fingerprint scanner, there is zero probability of being incorrectly investigated for a crime. Once a child has touched a scanner he or she will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives"

An 'Epic Fail'?
Here's a selection of comments from Oakmeeds Students regarding the new cashless catering system:

"It crashed today (Tuesday), they were writing down names and how much they paid for at break time, was quite a laugh ;)
"

"It was supposed to be saving time, well yeah it clearly hasn't been lol!"

"It takes longer than when we paid with cash! they scan our finger, wait for our account to load, type in what we bought and even then it doesn't always work!"

"It was meant to stop long queues, it doesn't, they're two times longer. It crashed today as well, we were still queing up when break finished. The thumb print sensor is a fail as well, it doesn't recognise some people. Tbh, it's an epic fail and we students had no say in it"

Do Oakmeeds have your child's fingerprints?
The system uses Biometric data obtained from your child's fingerprint. Oakmeeds claim that 'It is a sequence of numbers and not a picture or fingerprint that is stored on the system'.

Actually, it is 300 bytes of data that forms a map of the minutiae (significant points) of a child's fingerprint. And if what the system is storing isn't the direct equivalent of the fingerprint, then their system simply wouldn't work!!!



Brian Drury, IT security consultant, 12 March 2007 - "If a child has never touched a fingerprint scanner, there is zero probability of being incorrectly investigated for a crime. Once a child has touched a scanner he or she will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives"

Were parents aware of this before they gave consent for Oakmeeds to take their child's fingerprint?

Did you consent to your child having their fingerprint taken?
Oakmeeds sent out a consent form to parents. (You can download the exact form here) Oddly, the only option was to allow the school to take your child's fingerprint, there was no choice to decline.

While many parents therefore thought by not returning the form it meant they did not consent, this was not the case as far as the school seemed concerned. Oakmeeds went ahead and fingerprinted all children that didn't have a letter written from parents that stated not to fingerprint their child.

How can this possibly be legal?

If parents wrote to the school declining their child's fingerprint to be recorded, they were given a unique pin number in order for their child to use the cashless catering system. Why did Oakmeeds not make parents aware of this option before they started to collect the fingerprints?

How many parents would have preferred their child to use a pin number had the form the college sent out stated its availability?

How secure is your child's data?
Oakmeeds claim that 'Access to the data will be strictly controlled by the college' and how 'data will be handled under the guidelines of the data protection act and will only be used by parties directly associated with the college. Does that include the police and the government?

Schools are not nearly secure enough to perform biometric scans (airports and banks spend millions on their security). There is a real danger that children's fingerprints could be stolen.

Are parents fully aware of Oakmeeds history regarding the security and encryption of highly sensitive pupil data? (more on that another time perhaps)


What do you think?

Parents, did you realise the real implications of Oakmeeds taking your child's fingerprint?
Would you have preferred the pin number system if you knew of its availability?

Pupils, how is the system working now? Did staff pressure you into giving them your fingerprints and did your parents know? Do you feel that the important life skill of money management has been taken away from you due to the new cashless system?

Observers, what do you make of this situation?

Make yourself heard - with our NEW comment system below or contact us via our contact form

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