My Weird-Wide News posts are normally aimed at my younger readers. So I’m going to try and keep this simple, even though it is one of the weirdest posts I’ve done. But it is real. And yet it’s hardly made the normal news at all. I got it from the UK newspaper, ‘The Telegraph’.
Britain has a much better system of school libraries than we do in Ireland. But a school in Manchester is fingerprinting children so that they can use the school library. Seriously. After reading this article, I’ve found out that it seems to be happening all over the place.
Police can use fingerprints to identify criminals, and to find out who has touched an object or surface in a crime scene. Here’s a simple explanation of fingerprints for all you kids out there who are wondering how it works:
If you look really closely at your fingertips, you’ll see that they’re covered in tiny little lines – ridges in your skin. They help us feel things and help us grip things. These ridges are different on every finger, and the ones on your fingers are different to everyone else’s. These are your fingerprints and, apart from getting bigger as you grow, they stay more or less the same all the way through your life.
Now, if you’ve been eating chips, you’ll know how you leave greasy marks on anything you touch, right? But because of the natural oil in your skin (everyone has oil in their skin) these ridges leave marks on the surface of a lot of things you touch even when your hands are clean, especially anything with a smooth hard surface. A lot of the time, it’s hard to even seen these marks. Adults (including teenagers!) have oilier hands, so their fingerprints are easier to find and they last longer.
Because everyone’s fingerprints are different, the marks you leave are different. The police can find fingerprints left at a crime scene. They can compare any of these prints with millions of pictures of people’s prints that they have on computer. If your prints are on file, and they match prints found at a crime scene, the police come calling and ask you questions.
That’s basically what fingerprints are, and how they work.
But your prints should only be on the police computers if you’ve been arrested for a crime. People touch stuff all the time, every day, and fingerprints can last on some surfaces for a long time, so most of the fingerprints the police find at a crime scene have absolutely nothing to do with the crime.
Imagine all the fingerprints that have been left by all the people who’ve been through your school. If something really valuable was stolen in your school, would it be fair to think you did it just because you have spent time inside that building? No. The police would have to have other reasons for suspecting you too. And they have to assume you didn’t commit the crime, until they can prove that you did. That’s the law. It’s a law to stop the police from putting you in prison for something you didn’t do. And even though the police are normally the good guys, this does happen.
So the police can’t just fingerprint everyone in the country, even though it might help them solve some more crimes. They can’t, because they’re not allowed treat you as a criminal until they have a very good reason to think that you are one. It is their job to protect you, as well as catch criminals.
Some school libraries are now using scanners to read children’s fingerprints and identify who borrows what books. You don’t have to leave a mark – they have a machine that takes a picture of your finger or thumb and matches that photo to the prints they have on file (like the one in the picture). Is this borrower who they say they are? Scan their fingerprint . . . Yes they are. It sounds like a good system. But there are some things about it that worry me.
This system saves the school from having to pay a proper librarian to be there; one who knows the kids and what they’re reading and can help them in lots of ways that a machine can’t.
It means a private company has the fingerprints of hundreds, probably thousands of children in their computers. Ask your parents why they don’t like strangers having their phone numbers, or their address, or even their email address. But fingerprints are a much more personal, more valuable kind of information. And they will be even more important in the future. We don’t know what those companies might do with all those children’s fingerprints. Who’s checking on these people? How carefully are they checking on them?
Those computers can also be hacked by people who can steal stuff off any computer connected to the web. So, if you’ve borrowed a book from a certain school library, your fingerprints could end up in the hands of criminals if somebody hacks into those computers. This is really useful for anyone who wants to pretend they’re someone else – normally so they can steal something.
And it also means that children are being trained very early in life to hand over information about their identities and their bodies to anyone who asks. And that’s a really dangerous habit to get into. But then, they can trust the staff in their schools to take care of what’s really important, can’t they?
I particularly like the line that’s just kind of dropped in at the end of the Telegraph article, as if it’s hardly worthy mentioning: ‘It comes after schemes to fingerprint children as part of payment for their school dinners was introduced around the country.’
Oh, school dinners are something else we don’t really do over here in Ireland.
So kids, if your school ever says they’re going to start fingerprinting you for your school library – that’s if you have a school library, of course – ask your teacher to tell you about a thing called ‘civil rights’.