Schools Experiment with Iris Scanners to Replace ID Cards

School IDs might be a useful way to keep track of students while they’re on campus, but a small rectangular card is bound to get lost. A growing number of schools are instead turning to iris scanners because, as CNN Money’s Laurie Segall puts it, you can lose your ID, but losing your eyeball is much less likely.

Iris scanning technology is currently being piloted at K-12 schools as well as in colleges. Winthrop University in South Carolina has been testing iris scanning as a means of identification during freshman orientation activities this summer. The initial scan was taken as part of the process of issuing incoming students with student IDs.

Josh Hammond, Winthrop’s head of Information Technology, says that iris scanning is preferable to using IDs because they’re a “hands-free” technology.

Some schools are using eye-scanning technology in more limited ways such as with busing:

South Dakota-based Blinkspot manufactures iris scanners specifically for use on school buses. When elementary school students come aboard, they look into a scanner (it looks like a pair of binoculars). The reader will beep if they’re on the right bus and honk if they’re on the wrong one.

The Blinkspot scanner syncs with a mobile app that parents can use to see where their child is. Every time a child boards or exits the bus, his parent gets an email or text with the child’s photograph, a Google map where they boarded or exited the bus, as well as the time and date.

Biometric-based security first became widespread in places like airports where people’s fingerprints, irises and facial features were scanned at immigration check-points and during pre-boarding security checks. Now that the required technology becoming cheaper, it is turning up in places where not security but identification is the primary goal – like schools.

Though some privacy advocates worry that convenience could be coming at the expense of security.

The iris scanning companies note that the data their scanners collect is encrypted — an outsider would only see 1s and 0s if they went in search of your iris scans. And the companies themselves don’t collect any of the data — the schools, airports and businesses that use them own the data.

“It’s sort of like a brave new world; the new technology is sort of scary,” said Page Bowden, a parent of a student at Winthrop University’s on-campus nursery school. “But when you stop to actually think about it, and think about the level of security that [it] affords you as a parent and your children, it’s worth it.”