Florida is considering legislation to sharply regulate the use of
fingerprint, palm print, iris scans and other biometric
identification systems once found only in futuristic thrillers such
as "Mission: Impossible" and "Minority Report."
The issue is being taken up after parents were outraged in 2013 to
find students' eyes were being scanned as a condition of boarding
school buses in central Florida's Polk County School District.
Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, a part of Connecticut-based
Stanley Black & Decker, captured the iris images of 750 students in
a pilot project before it was stopped, according to the local
Lakeland Ledger newspaper.
Neither parents nor the school superintendent were informed of the
project before its launch, the newspaper reported.
The company's website calls iris scans second only to DNA in
providing certain identification.
The Florida Senate's education committee will take up a bill on
Tuesday that would require school districts choosing to use
biometrics to establish strict policies on the public disclosure,
use and maintenance of the stored data, and require parents to
choose to participate in the program before their children's data is
Florida's Pinellas County School District in 2011 was the site of
another biometric pilot project, which used palm scans to check
students into the school lunch lines.
Art Dunham, director of food services for Pinellas County, said palm
scans make lunch lines move faster to help make sure students get
time to eat their food.
The district leads the nation in the use of palm scanners, which are
employed in 50 districts in 10 states, with more pilot projects
under way, according to Kent Schrock, spokesman for the Fujitsu
Frontech, the Japanese manufacturer.
[to top of second column]
The palm scanners look at the pattern of veins under the skin which
Shrock said are unique like fingerprints. He said some school
districts prefer palm scans to other biometric devices, because they
are not part of law enforcement databases.
Biometric data is covered under the Federal Educational Rights and
Privacy Act, which provides parents certain rights over their
childrens' school records, but has not received attention so far
from states, said Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy
project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public
interest research group based in Washington, D.C.
Recent changes in the rules have allowed more access to student
information by third parties, Barnes said, a trend that her group is
fighting as the first step in losing control of student information.
Biometric information typically is held by third-party contractors,
Barnes said, suggesting schools should use lower-tech alternatives.
"It's very hard to explain why in a K-12 context when that
information is so sensitive ... that schools need biometric
information," she said.
(Editing by David Adams, Mohammad Zargham and Ken Wills)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.