My school plans to introduce a "cashless" system for buying school from the canteen. I've got problems with it for a number of reasons, but since they won't listen, I'm writing them here to stop myself from screaming.

My initial problem is the invasion of privacy involved in expecting students to give a finger print. When I pointed this out, they explained that the actual images will not be stored, only a string of numbers. Fair enough. Unless you know that no one uses the images themselves for identification. If someone else has a finger prints and wants to know whose it is, then they digitise their copy of the print then look through the schools bank of numbers for a match. Storing digitised prints actually makes it easier to use the prints for other purposes, not harder.

Their other explanation was that they would store less information than is normally used in law enforcement, only holding enough detail for use within a small group. However, there is no research into the accuracy of finger printing, so legislation about how much detail is necessary for a positive identification could easily change. Maybe my head teacher doesn't understand any of that; I'll be charitable, and not accuse him of deliberately misleading staff students and parents.

Here in Britain, the police have to arrest you to demand a print. (Unless that went the way of rights like "habeas corpus" and the "right to remain silent" while I wasn't looking.) So why should the school be able to ask for them just like that?

Another problem arose out of the blue yesterday evening, when I received a letter explaining why I shouldn't be worried about this system. It mentioned in passing that they would also record what food we buy and eat. Personally, I don't want the school to know. Either they'll never use it, in which case I'd rather they didn't have it in case it ends up in the wrong hands. Or they do intend to use it, which would be even worse. I don't want something as personal as what I'm eating being monitored by my teachers, however much I like and respect them. Also, monitoring the eating of people with eating disorders can make the problem worse; it can make people resentful of whoever is monitoring them and more self-conscious about food and body image.

My final argument is that if another government branch asked the school for our finger prints, I'm sure that the school would give them it. There are certain racist political parties that could conceivably gain power in this area. If that happens, I wouldn't want them to have access to our fingerprints, particularly not in combination with the information the school holds on students' ethnicity.

Even beyond that; say the local authority find a whole load of litter near the school. They scan it, and find a whole load of prints, which they give to the school. The school then looks up whose prints these are, and punishes the students involved. Fine. Except, wait. Because their print is on it, does that mean they dumped it? Not necessarily. In a court of law, you'd need other evidence. Apart from the fact that you can now be locked up for up to three months without charge, so with very little evidence or possibly none at all.

Now, look closer at that. The police have a print from someone they suspect of being a terrorist, they take it to the school, the school finds out whose it is and hands them over. On no more evidence than that print, the person is locked up for three months without charge. (Assuming the police stay within the law, they would then have to be released or taken to court and convicted.)

So, what do you think? Want to join the school's new "cashless system"? It'll save time, as long as the machines are working.

Habeas Corpus is an old British law. Literally "you have the body" in Latin. It meant that if the government imprisoned someone without charge and conviction you could demand their release.

The right to remain silent meant that you didn't have to answer the police's questions when they arrested you, you could wait and answer before a cought. It meant that you didn't have to trust people whose job is partially to get you convicted with your deffence. Now, if you don't tell the police something, and later mention it in cought, the prosecution can use it against you. "Why didn't you say that earlier? Did it take you a while to think up a plausible explanation?" style thing.