A WELSH nursery has installed fingerprint scanning normally used at military sites or in Government buildings to increase the safety of the children in its care.
The biometric security system at the seafront Mes Enfants nursery in Mumbles, Swansea, is thought to be the first in Wales to employ hi-tech fingerprint scanning.
Its owner said yesterday that the technology had been introduced to reassure parents in the light of the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
The system, part of a range of security measures at the nursery, allows only authorized parents and staff to access the building.
Those authorised to enter the nursery, including registered staff and parents, are required to swipe their finger over a key pad as part of the system.
They can then access the nursery by placing their finger onto a entry keypad.
Nursery owner Rebecca Treharne, a former teacher, said the aim was to give parents and staff added confidence.
The nursery has been running for five-and-a-half years and has 100 children on its books, aged from four months to four-and-a-half-years-old.
Ms Treharne said, "It was something we decided to bring in after publicity over the Madeleine McCann case in Portugal.
"It obviously heightened parents' concerns about the safety of their children, particularly if their children were going to be out of their sight for some hours.
"Parents are automatically concerned about the security, happiness and wellbeing of their children.
"In a nursery these considerations are a priority but security has to be on top of the list because that is what parents demand."
Ms Treharne emphasised the new security system did not rely on fingerprint entry alone, but also included video and audio systems.
It replaced the buzzer and intercom previously operated at Mes Enfants.
The system was installed by UK Biometrics Ltd which also offers iris recognition and facial patterns in its state-of-the-art biometric security products.
A scanner within the fingerprint entry system can register a person's fingerprint in seconds and then stores an encrypted version for future comparison, protecting the identity of authorised users.
Ms Treharne said, "There are no issues over identity theft because the system recognises just 16 components in a person's fingerprint.
"That is enough for the system to work but it means a full fingerprint does not have to be given."
UK Biometrics director Ryan Hole, who is marketing the entry systems in South Wales, believes they will eventually replace keys.
He said, "We have schools installing them for registration, nightclubs to ensure members only get in and a range of companies and institutions are installing them.
"Unlike keys or passwords which can be lost or forgotten this is a foolproof system.
"Fingerprint entry systems represent significant security advancements over identity cards or passwords because they physically prove each user's identity."
However, Sally Gimson, campaigns manager at the Family and Parenting Institute said there were concerns about such systems.
Although she said she was not criticising any individual, she said, "These machines could work as part of a wider security plan, but we do not believe they should be relied on as the only measure used to stop uninvited people getting into nurseries. Fingerprint scanning is not foolproof. Information can be found across the web on ways to trick the scanners.
"Hence the extra confidence that this device brings could be unfounded and misleading for parents. Parents might also be concerned that a nursery has proper data protection policies in place. It would be important, for instance, that details of parents' fingerprints were destroyed when their child leaves the nursery."