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Biometrics Institute warns of threat to privacy in widening access to National Pupil Database


Earlier this month, the Biometrics Institute, an independent international body representing biometrics users, academia and the industry have called for caution in widening access to the National Pupil Database (NPD) as proposed by the UK government.

According to institute Chief Executive Isabelle Moeller, the UK’s proposal is a challenge to the privacy of UK citizens.

The institute is responding to a recent call for public submissions about the government’s decision to widen access to details about British students, through the National Pupil Database, as reported by The Register.

Interestingly, the government’s call for public submissions no longer exists online.

According to the Administrative Data Liaison Service website, the British “National Pupil Database is one of the richest education datasets in the world, holding a wide range of information about students who attend schools and colleges in England. The NPD combines the examination results of pupils with information on pupil and school characteristsics and is an amalgamation of a number of different datasets, including Key State attainment data and Schools Census data (formerly known as PLASC) which are linked using a unique identifier for each pupil.”

According to the Biometrics Institute, the government’s proposal would allow private sector and other previously excluded groups to access the national database in order to enable research, education planning and other services to be performed.

“For wider access, think Google and Facebook, for example,” Moeller said. “These will be major players in student learning in the very near future.”

In its submission to the government, the Biometrics Institute calls for a major privacy assessment to be conducted before the national pupil database is opened for greater access, though the institute said that it is willing to work with the Department for Education to examine the implications before any regulatory or legislative change is made.

The submission from the institute points out that collected personal data of pupils could be extremely sensitive, such as parent’s social and education background, student and parent finances and health, school reports, intelligence and social testing, home addresses, mental health issues and in cases, biometrics such as fingerprints and face geometry.

“Privacy breaches can have dangerous and disturbing consequences,” Terry Aulich, Chair of the Biometrics Institute Privacy Committee said. “All parents and pupils need water-tight guarantees to prevent any personal data, whether it is linked or consolidated, getting into the wrong hands or being misused by external groups such as the media and marketers, and criminals. Children cannot exercise informed consent about how their data is used and their parents are often unaware of the risks.”

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