When most people think of biometrics, they think about the high-security technology that is used by the government for passports and border control, or perhaps security that banks use to combat identity theft, or methods that police use to find criminals.

While large scale public sector implementations has been the driving force for the initial rollout of biometric-based applications, biometric-enabled consumer devices like smart phones, laptops, car doors, home security systems and mobile banking accounts are building broader public awareness and willingness to use biometrics today.

Biometrics are suited to all applications where the accurate identification of an individual is essential.

What are Biometrics?

Biometrics are automated methods of recognising a person for identification and authentication based on a physiological or behavioural characteristic. It covers a wide range of unique attributes for individuals that can be accurately measured including fingerprint, facial recognition, hand geometry, handwriting, iris, vein design, ear geometry, voice, gait recognition and even body odour measurement.

Of all the biometric methods available, fingerprint recognition is by far the most widely used today.

Whilst it is often considered a high-tech product of the 21st Century, biometrics is not a new technology. Ancient Egyptian society was known to use bodily characteristics to identify workers to ensure they did not claim more provisions than they were entitled to and Chinese merchants in the fourteenth century were recorded using palm prints to identify children.

Biometrics use in Schools

Biometrics are suited to all applications where the accurate identification of an individual is essential. Its utilisation in school administration has grown rapidly in the past decade because it provides an ideal solution for school administrators in their effort to identify students, provide accurate and auditable student records and provide a safer and more secure environment for students, teachers and staff.Virtually unknown in the school environment just a decade ago, the use of biometrics in schools is rapidly growing. The United Kingdom has been an early adopter of biometrics and various estimates indicate usage levels to be as high as 40% of schools in England.

The most common applications for biometrics in schools is in access control, library, canteen, payment processing and attendance monitoring. By adopting biometrics technologies, schools can implement higher standards of accuracy with the efficiency gains that are common with biometric applications.

Biometrics is not the enemy of privacy. In fact, biometrics are privacy and security enhancing.

What about Privacy & Security?

At the outset, it is important to recognise that biometrics is not the enemy of privacy. In fact, biometrics are privacy and security enhancing and this is driving the widespread implementation of biometrics across multiple industries, including education.

It should be acknowledged however, that biometric information carries with it both information privacy and physical privacy considerations. For when we collect biometric information from a person, we are not just collecting information about that person, but information of that person.

The very nature of biometric information and its major advantage in terms of its powers of identification can also create significant privacy risks and community anxiety about its use. So, for biometrics to be successful in any school community, students and parents need to be able to trust that their privacy and security is not being eroded but, where possible, enhanced.

Regulators throughout the world recognise the sensitivity of biometrics data and this results in stricter privacy and security considerations and regulations relating to the use of biometrics in schools and other applications.

In Australia, biometrics data has an elevated privacy status and is treated as “sensitive information” under the Privacy Act. This governs the general principles on the collection, utilisation and safe storage of this data. In essence, biometrics data is afforded the same security status as a person’s medical information. This change formed part of the update to the Privacy Act in March 2014 and it gives individuals greater confidence that their sensitive biometric information will be appropriately treated by both agencies and organisations.

REACH BioPad brings biometrics to boarding schools

biometricsWith the introduction of the REACH BioPad in May 2017, biometrics for boarding schools is now both accessible and affordable. Eight pilot schools in Australia, USA, Canada, UK, Singapore are pioneering the use of biometrics in boarding schools with the REACH BioPad for student sign-ins and automated roll calls.

The REACH BioPad allows for students to authenticate by several means including fingerprint biometrics, RFID cards, NFC device (eg: mobile phone scan), barcode, QR code or PIN Number. Facial recognition, exeat host image capture and signature pad will also be available features in the REACH Biopad.

In addition to being a valuable, fixed monitoring and transaction device, the REACH BioPad can also be used as a mobile tablet for use around campus, on excursions or bus trips with travelling student groups.