The Education Ministry has forbidden the Tzafit high school in Kibbutz Kfar Menahem to use a biometric device intended to identify students entering the dining room, and to erase the fingerprint data bank formed for this purpose, following a query from Haaretz.

"The school has abused its authority and it is doubtful whether obliging the students to submit fingerprints is legal," attorney Avner Pinchuk of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel told Haaretz Thursday.

The school took the students' fingerprints last week for a biometric identification device without advising the parents or asking for their permission, Haaretz has learned. The device, which cost some NIS 19,500, was to be installed at the entrance to the school's dining room in the next few days to monitor students.

Some 700 students from kibbutzim and moshavim affiliated with the Yoav Regional Council are enrolled in the prestigious Tzafit high school. Most of them pay for lunch in the dining room.

Until three-four years ago, all the students ate in the dining room. Then the catering service was privatized and students who want to eat there are charged NIS 400 each a month for a cooked meal.

This year the school decided to install a biometric device to monitor the number of times each student enters the dining room by his fingerprint, to prevent students who did not pay from entering, parents were told. "The children were very excited about the technological thing, but I'm much less thrilled," one parent said Thursday. "It involves invasion of privacy without parents' approval."

Another parent said "the students' privacy is infringed on needlessly."

Students' opinions were divided. "I have no problem with the device to identify fingerprints, and don't care about the whole thing," an eighth-grade student said.

"Now it will be clear who paid for the food and who didn't. No more sneaking into the dining room," said another.

An 11th-grade student retorted, "Now they'll be able to blame students for all kinds of things that are not related to food. It gives the school too much power."

One of the teachers said the decision to use the biometric device shows that the school was "treating the symptoms - like sneaking into the dining room - instead of dealing with the problem, which is the relations between students. The school keeps checking up on the children because it doesn't trust or believe them. I think this is a extreme education deficiency."

"It is widely agreed that biometric information is sensitive and must be used under close supervision to make sure it is not abused," said Pinchuk. "Like any other technology, biometry has a price. Installing a biometric device in the dining room seems disproportional and sends an extremely noneducational message."