Sen. Dorothy Hukill Wants to Stop Electronic Scanning of K-12 Students
Around the State
Once considered science fiction, eye scanning and electronic fingerprinting devices are becoming more and more commonplace -- even in Florida’s public schools.
It’s called biometric data gathering, and some K-12 schools are using these technologies, among others, to collect students’ physical identifying information.
“The key problem with biometric identifiers is that they’re unique and unchangeable,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a Washington, D.C., based nonprofit.
“That makes it possible to link together a great deal of information about individuals that typically they are not aware of,” Rotenberg said.
Schools use the data to track student lunch payments, record attendance, monitor the use of library books and school buses, and even follow student movements while on campus.
State Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, is having none of it.
The Port Orange Republican filed her second of two bills Thursday that, if passed, would prohibit state K-12 public schools from collecting any electronic data that measures students’ bodies.
“There are currently no established policies for collecting the data used in these applications,” said Hukill in a statement. “There is no way of knowing if the information being provided is given with parental consent or if the data is being kept in a secure manner.”
In May, the Polk County School District conducted a pilot program requiring 750 students to undergo iris scans to ride school buses.
Parents could have opted out, but notification of the program was mistakenly sent to parents after the eye scanning was performed by a private security company and before a contract was finalized with the district.
“I think that’s nutty,” Rotenberg said. “You do that with prisoners when they’re moving between prison facilities.”
Hukill’s bill, SB 232, defines biometric information as anything resulting from the noninvasive electronic measuring of students, including fingerprinting, palm scans, eye and facial recognition and even voice tones.
Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, the firm that scanned Polk County’s students, explains on its website that iris scanning is “a proven biological constant” form of identification, second only to DNA.
For more than two years, Pinellas County schools have used infrared palm scanning devices to track students who receive federally subsidized lunches.
While most schools require students to manually enter a pin number, Pinellas County Food Service Director Art Dunham told WFSU.org the palm scanning helps school lunch lines move more quickly.
“Perhaps when you were a child you might have taken a flashlight and put it to the palm of your hand [so] you can see the veins? It reads the veins under the skin. The vein patterns under the skin,” Dunham said.
Dunham also said the identifying data are deleted when students leave the schools.
Those assurances don’t seem to quell the concerns of Hukill and some privacy advocates.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is opposed to government collecting biometric data in public schools.
EPIC also warns of risks posed by third parties who conduct the data gathering and store the information.
“We know those types of businesses can fail,” said Rotenberg. “The most famous one was called Clear, a registered traveler program, that had a biometric database of 185,000 travelers. They went bankrupt and the first thing they wanted to sell was their biometric database.”
Law enforcement officials can likely gain access to these databases with a warrant, and disclosure requirements in civil or criminal legal proceedings further complicate claims of exclusivity.
Rotenberg said his organization isn’t against the appropriate use of identification technologies, but when it comes to school children, “they are excessive, costly and risky.”
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