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Privacy Concerns over Fingerprint Scans

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To run or not to run? That is the question faced by thousands of students at about 100 universities across China, where they will be required to have their fingerprints scanned for a two-month long-distance running program, which begins on Nov 12.


University students across China will be required to have their fingerprints scanned for a two-month long-distance running program, which begins on Nov 12.


The move has sparked an outcry among the students, who fear their privacy will be violated by the requirement.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) said the demand for fingerprint scans aims to improve discipline and dissuade students from cheating.

The measure has been in use in Shenzhen University for three semesters and this year the ministry wants to expand it nationwide, the MOE said.

"The physical condition of Chinese college students has declined dramatically and the long-distance running program will benefit their health," said Chen Xiaorong, one of the organizers of the program and head of the physical education department at Shenzhen University.

"But the feedback we have received has indicated that the students are unwilling to take part in the running program if it is not strictly managed," she said.

Citing an example, she said a student at Shenzhen University helped his classmates cheat on the school's long-distance running program before the fingerprint scanner was initially introduced on a trial basis.

Since the new system was adopted by the city to manage attendance, 89,000 students completed the long-distance running program over the last winter semester without teachers' supervision, she said.

All university freshmen and sophomores have to participate in the long-distance running program over the winter, the MOE said in a statement issued in June.

Male students are required to run a distance of 2,000 meters per session, while female students need to cover 1,500 meters. Those who attend more than 16 sessions can receive class credit.

For the program, students have been asked to register on the website, operated by Shenzhen Sunscin Technique Co, which provides fingerprint scanners to universities for free.

The company, however, does not have an Internet Content Provider license, which is required to operate a website on the mainland.

Some students have questioned the choice of a website as the method of registration, expressing the concern that their personal information might be misused.

However, Chen stressed that the Ministry of Education has signed a contract with the company to safeguard the students' privacy and prevent their personal information from being leaked.

She admitted that the company could economically benefit from the increased web traffic.

Calls to the telephone number listed on the company's website went unanswered on Thursday.

A fingerprint is part of a person's privacy, so the students should have the right to choose whether to participate in this manner, Zhang Jian, a lawyer at the Yijia Law Firm in Beijing told China Daily on Thursday.

The requirement asking for fingerprint scans does not violate any law or infringe on the students' right to privacy, providing the readings are not misused, he said.

Ye Xinglin, a lawyer at the Beijing-based S&P Law Firm, said the students' concerns demonstrated increased social awareness of the need for privacy protection in China.

"The policymakers should clarify the punishment that will be enforced if the students' personal information is misused," he added.

(China Daily October 29, 2010)

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