Computing discussion topics 2016-09-14: Brexit and biometrics

When I was a teacher, I always devoted some lesson time to what was going on in the news. I thought, and think, that one has to do that in order to keep the subject relevant.

Here are two topics that came up recently, and which are capable of being discussed by both primary and secondary pupils, with the appropriate adjustments in language of course.

These discussion topics were first published, along with several others, in the July 2016 issue of Digital Education, which is a free newsletter. You can sign up to it here if you wish: Newsletters.


After the UK voted in a referendum to leave the European Union, an online petition was started to change the rules, so that a higher turnout would be needed. By all accounts this gained traction. If an online petition garners 100,000 “signatures”, Parliament decides whether or not to debate it. Note that, contrary to what many people believe, Parliament is not obliged to discuss it. In short, having 100,000 signatures guarantees that Parliament will definitely consider thinking about discussing it.

Anyway, success came quickly apparently, with the number of signatures reaching over a million in almost no time at all. Indeed, so successful was it, that even people from North Korea signed it, and many more times the number of people living in some areas signed it. Now that’s what I call a successful petition.

Of course, if odd facts like the ones just cited had not alerted the authorities to the possibility of a bit of skulduggery going on, a cursory glance at the IP addresses would have done so.

Interestingly, hiding your IP address, in the interests of privacy, could also be taken as indicating possible fraud. That’s because if the IP address is hidden, it’s impossible for the authorities to be sure that you live where you seem to live.

It might be worth discussing with your pupils how to check whether online petitions are being manipulated in some way, and how the powers-that-be would find out. In a wider context, in the light of all this do online petitions serve any useful purpose? Here are some references for you to check out:

Petition concerns #1

Petition concerns #2

Incidentally, you may be interested to learn that in the newsletter from which this discussion topic has been republished, there was an extensive section on Brexit. The commentary focused on how Brexit may affect schools, in terms of both prices and particular legislation. What was missing were my personal views, patronising comments, and sweeping generalisations. Instead, there was informed speculation from a number of people, including myself.

Are biometrics better than passwords?

People come up with pretty useless passwords, apparently, so one solution to this is for security systems on computers and other devices to use biometrics instead. In other words, data that is unique to your biology, such as your fingerprint, your face, or even your heartbeat.

I've always objected to the use of biometrics and resisted buying any device that requires them, for both pragmatic and safety reasons. For instance:

What happens if you burn your fingers? I've read that once your fingerprint has been burnt off, it doesn't come back.

What happens if you are injured in an accident or develop an illness that changes what your face looks like?

What happens if you develop arrhythmia?

What if someone decides to steal your laptop – and your finger so they can get into it? (See the story Serial killer Joanna Dennehy plotted to cut off guard's finger to escape jail)

Have a look at the very good article Biometrics will replace passwords, but it's a bad idea for even more objections.

What do your students think? Can they come up with a better idea?

Just to remind you, Digital Education is free. You can subscribe from our Newsletters page. Signing up gives you access to a few pretty decent freebies, such as:

  • A “cheat sheet” of 70 types of blog content in case your personal or school blog is starting to get a bit stale.
  • An in-depth research report on why educational research, especially in the field of education technology, is always reported so badly.
  • An extensive list of approved IT qualifications.