Fingerprints, Biometics Introduced in Illinois School Cafeteria

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia, Creative Commons)

Students in a school located in the suburbs of Chicago will be able to order lunch items in the cafeteria with a fingerprint scan this fall under a new system that will make use of biometrics.

Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 will be joining several other school districts in the area that currently use the technology.  School district officials have said the biometric payment system will allow the cafeteria to run more efficiently by helping students check out faster because they will no longer need to make use of wallets or ID cards.

However, civil liberties groups believe that such systems could come at a cost to students’ privacy.  Those concerned have cited a number of lawsuits that companies in the private sector are dealing with on the topic of biometrics, which involves the scanning of fingerprints, retinas, and facial and voice recognition in order to identify an individual.

Security researchers have continuously shown since 2002 that not only governments, but criminals, and anyone who has access to the right material, can fake a fingerprint in order to access digital devices and authentication systems.  Whereas students could change a personal identification number that was compromised, they cannot change their fingerprints.

Illinois is one of just two states that regulate biometrics in the private sector.  The Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) was passed by the state in 2008, which does not allow the collection or storage of biometric information by private companies, including fingerprints and facial recognition, without first receiving informed, written consent, writes Christine Won for The Chicago Tribune.

“The option of using biometric is being implemented as a convenience to avoid issues with the need to carry and retain a payment card,” said district board President Doug Goldberg. “It is one option of the payment system and is not mandatory to use.”

A report by CR80 News found that since its original launch in 2014, less than 15% of students in Geneva District 304 have opted out of the fingerprint scanning system, and no privacy or security conflicts have come up.

A number of cost-effective options were discussed prior to the approval of the biometric system in February.  Goldberg said the main goal is to ensure that lunch payments are streamlined for students and are easier on the parents who provide the funds for their accounts.  Fingerprinting technology was decided upon, offered through Pushcoin, after the decision was made to phase out the current food-service software in use in the district.

Pushcoin is a cloud-based centralized payment system that includes a school webstore, a parent portal, an administrative site, and a point-of-sale app, according to co-founder and CEO Anna Lisznianski.  So far, the company has worked with close to 100 schools on implementing the system.

A letter was sent to parents in the district in March highlighting a number of features including the mobile-friendly website, email notifications when a balance is too low, the option to check transaction history, and the ability to transfer funds from one child to another.  Parents were also informed that students would be able to use the fingerprint system to record purchases without the need for a card or manual entry.

In addition, the letter said the new system would offer a faster checkout process for students and added protection against fraudulent activity.