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Council staff refuse fingerprint surveillance

PUBLISHED: 17:08 12 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:23 07 September 2010

LONDON - DECEMBER 06: A fingerprint mark is left on a new biometric check in kiosk at terminal three on December 6, 2006 at London's Heathrow airport.  The new check in kiosk allows passengers to link a fingerprint scan to their passport details and avoid long queues at security. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

LONDON - DECEMBER 06: A fingerprint mark is left on a new biometric check in kiosk at terminal three on December 6, 2006 at London's Heathrow airport. The new check in kiosk allows passengers to link a fingerprint scan to their passport details and avoid long queues at security. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)

2006 Getty Images

Hundreds of council workers in Westminster are refusing to be fingerprinted when clocking in and out of work. The trade union Unison has advised council workers to reject fingerprint scanners that have been installed in Westminster Council s community pro

Hundreds of council workers in Westminster are refusing to be fingerprinted when clocking in and out of work.

The trade union Unison has advised council workers to reject fingerprint scanners that have been installed in Westminster Council's community protection department.

Eight biometric scanners were installed two weeks ago by council bosses to monitor working hours.

But the move, which cost nearly £10,000, has sparked fears of a Big Brothe surveillance society and personal data being leaked.

"Our main concern is with data protection and with the security of the information held," said Westminster Unison assistant branch secretary Steven Higgins.

"The department has a very close relationship with the local police and there is no guarantee information will be held securely."

The plans will affect 200 workers in the community protection department, including City Guardians who tackle anti-social behaviour.

But Unison has issued all members with a refusal letter which they can give to managers when asked for fingerprints.

The council has promised a full consultation with unions and staff members before the machines are brought into use. If approved, the plans will see Westminster become the first local authority in the country to use the technology.

Mr Higgins said that, aside from the worries about data protection, the move seriously undermined the council's trust in staff.

"It's plainly overkill. If there are issues with clocking on and clocking off, they should be dealt with through the normal management systems not through these draconian methods," he said. "They're also absolutely unnecessary. It's not even like staff are not properly supervised."

But the council's director of community protection, Dean Ingledew, said the new equipment did not store fingerprints but turned them into a number which could not be transferred or copied.

"This technology works by taking a low-resolution picture of someone's fingerprint and converting it immediately into a unique number - no picture is held on the system," he said.

"We have a large, diverse workforce and as an employer we have a duty of care to know where our staff are, that they are safe and that council taxpayers are getting value for money from staff who are working properly."

He added that staff members who regularly work alone at night have welcomed the system.

"Many say they actually feel safer with this system because anyone fails to sign in or out it is flagged up immediately and calls are made to find out where they are," he said.

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