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BiometricsFlorida mulling banning school collection of students’ biometric information

Published 5 February 2014

Some school districts in Florida, including Polk County and Pinellas County, are using scanners to collect fingerprints and hands, eyes, and voice characteristics from students. Pinellas County school district allows students to use palm scans instead of cash to pay for meals in the cafeteria. The collection of students’ biometric information has alarmed many parents who are concerned that students’ identity or personal records may be stolen or sold to private companies. Florida state legislators are debating a proposal which would stop school districts from collecting biometric information from students.

Florida state legislators are debating a proposal which would stop school districts from collecting biometric information from students. Some school districts, including Polk County and Pinellas County, are already using scanners to collect fingerprints and hands, eyes, and voice characteristics from students. Pinellas County school district allows students to use palm scans instead of cash to pay for meals in the cafeteria.

“We’ve been able to get kids through a lunch line for decades,” said State Senator Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, who brought the idea of blocking biometric collection to the Florida Senate. “Why do we need to take their biometric information when we know there is the potential for identity theft?”

The Miami Herald reports that the collection of students’ biometric information by schools has alarmed many parents who are concerned that students’ identity or personal records may be stolen or sold to private companies. On the political front, the proposed legislation will satisfy state conservatives and tea party groups who are concerned that the collection of student data violates privacy rights.

Some school boards in Florida favor biometric collection as a way to create efficiency in school operations. “Biometrics is coming,” said Miami-Dade School Board member Raquel Regalado, who is leading an effort to create a local biometrics policy. “It exists in the market. It will exist in our schools. It may end up being a viable way to ensure there isn’t fraud.”

The proposal being reviewed by the Florida legislature is part of a larger effort to address concerns relating to securing student records. Florida schools have used student data to develop education policies, and the state educational system is considered one of the best education management systems in the country.

Recent security breaches in the private sector, however, have raised concerns from parents. “I’m very concerned any time personal information is collected,” said Mindy Gould, the legislative chair for the Florida PTA. “There is nothing to convince me that this data would be secure, and that it wouldn’t be released to private vendors.”

The Herald notes that the proposed legislation would ban biometric data collection, and reinforce the federal law which stipulates that parents must be notified annually about their rights regarding student education records. The legislation also bans school districts from collecting data on students’ political affiliation, voting records, and the religious affiliation of their parents and siblings. Additionally, personally identifiable data would not be sent to the federal government unless required by federal law.

“There is a reason for the state to collect some [education] information and there is a reason for that information to be shared with other states,” said Senator John Legg (R-Trinity), who chairs the Senate Education Committee. “But that data should not be identifiable at an individual level. We need to make sure we have proper safeguards to ensure that individual, identifiable student data is not shared.”