Biopolitics in High School

It would’ve been nice to hear that our nations High School students were delving in some pretty hot political and philosophical topics, however, a report out of the ABC instructs us otherwise. Students of a N.S.W High School were seemingly being coerced to provide electronic fingerprint scans for the purpose of role marking. The principle of a Western Sydney High School is reported as saying that the scans can only be used for the purpose of role marking, suggesting that it is a much more efficient way to mark student attendance roles that the somewhat archaic (my emphasis) paper archival system. Whilst I’m an advocate and in favour of decreasing the usage and wastage of paper, surely there must be an easier and less invasive method of role marking. Some businesses, for example, use a simple computer sign-on systems that marks the time of arrival and departure. Whilst public schools are impart responsible for the attendance of students, Orwellian style surveillance is highly unnecessary and somewhat askancive. My question is, what are they going to do with with e-fingerprints once students leave school? I’m sure our police and defense forces may be interested in some of that information. After all, we are living in a post-panoptical society.

(Note: don’t forget to listen to the audio available on that link.)

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9 Responses to “Biopolitics in High School”


  1. 1 Simon April 3, 2008 at 5:49 pm

    I wonder how they’d go with that policy if challenged in court Nathan?

    I’m still failing to see the logic behind this process. Why can’t, instead of fingerprinting students, administrators/teachers just use a simple electronic spreadsheet for example? If we have to go electronic then there are much easier, and secure, methods than using a fingerprint scanner.

  2. 2 Brad April 3, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    There is one particular problem I see with this argument against biometrics. The e-fingerprint here is not really information. It is a method of access to information which is stored elsewhere. My old visa card used a magnetic stripe to link to information stored by my bank. Smart (chip) cards are now starting to fill that role. The RFID tag on a car links to information stored by the RTA or E-toll. My passport links to information stored by various other parties. The list goes on. Birth certificate, personal references, locker keys, passwords, etc.

    The electronically scanned fingerprint is no more of a threat if it is stolen than your visa card, birth certificate or house key or Facebook password. In fact, biometric security is stronger than many other forms of security.

    In the context of the school in question, the fingerprint is apparently linking only to attendance information. Yes; this attendance information might be useful to the police in some circumstances. Maybe as evidence of alibi. The electronic fingerprint may also be stored and called upon by various authorities. For what purpose? Simply to confirm at some given point that you are who you claim to be.

    I realise the issue is complex, and there are many objections that can be put to this argument. Definitely a philosophical problem worthy of great attention.

  3. 3 Nathan April 3, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    I don’t know what the situation is like in other states, however, this is something they’ve been wanting to do in N.S.W for a while, from what I understand. having lived in the western suburbs of Sydney for all of my youth, I’m not surprised that tactics such as this have been rolled out. A lot of the schools are slowly beginning to look like prisons with the security systems that have been put in place. The whole notion of e-fingerprinting doesn’t necessarily surprise me. Reading some of the literature that is coming out of, and has come out of areas concerned with politics seemed a little far fetched, that possibly what is being (fore)seen as governmentality borders on paranoia; but this is only because the state of politics in this country, seemingly, hasn’t been that extreme. Like I mentioned, I’m not sure what has happened in other states, but I’m somewhat surprised that these measurements have come out of a Labour government; but then again, Chifley was the one who introduced ASIO in ’49. Surely these students aren’t Soviet spies.

  4. 4 Nathan April 3, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    The Biometrics Institute makes available the privacy policy relevant to Australian citizens

  5. 5 Nathan April 3, 2008 at 6:46 pm

    If people are interested in reading more about the philosophical accounts and implications of biopolitics, Foucault and Agamben are your best bets.

  6. 6 Simon April 4, 2008 at 1:35 am

    I disagree Brad, it’s not only the information that the fingerprint links to that could be misused but the fingerprint itself. I’m assuming that all students’ fingerprint images are kept on file somewhere, in a database that is referred to every time a student’s finger is scanned. These fingerprint images are what is most sensitive. Questions I had in mind were how secure is the storage database, who has access (and not just approved access), and what would the legal position be regarding these fingerprints.

    Further, and I’ve no idea whether this is a possibility, but if someone gets hold of your fingerprint then can they replicate it in some way? Perhaps to fraudulently present (represent) themselves as you?

    As for the police, they may, in a very hypothetical situation, be investigating a crime committed at 11:30am by a school age child. They pop over to the school to see who wasn’t in attendance, gather all of the fingerprints from those students who were away and compare them with those at the crime scene.

    Also, and excuse me if this issue is addressed in the audio at your link Nath, my net’s been shaped, are the staff all keen to place their fingerprints in the same database?

  7. 7 Brad April 4, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    There is little doubt that the “fingerprint” can be misused. But I don’t think the fingerprinting is itself the heart of the issue. It seems invasive because it is apparently a personal (bodily) object that is being used as a key. In fact, it is just a hex code stored in a database. It is no more threatening than the misuse of a credit card or a password.

    It seems to me that the argument against biometrics is misplaced.

  8. 8 Simon April 4, 2008 at 8:05 pm

    If the issue is not security but one of invasiveness then it is certainly a little far fetched. I can understand when persons don’t want parts of their body removed, in DNA tests and blood tests etc., or when they don’t want their body pierced, in injections for medicine and RFIDs etc., but if the issue is just one of personal space then it’s being a bit over extended.

  9. 9 Nathan April 5, 2008 at 12:06 am

    In light of the passive approval biometrics has enjoyed in these comments, I offer you some further reading – No to Bio-Political Tattooing and Not to Biometrics . I ask you: essentially, what is the difference?

    Extract from Wikipedia
    (In January 2004, Agamben refused to give a lecture at New York University because under the US-VISIT he would have been required to give up his biometric information, which he believed stripped him to a state of “bare life” (zoe) and was akin to the tattooing that the Nazis did during World War II.)


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