A bill in Florida that would ban public schools from collecting and using "biometric" information from students passed the second Senate panel. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-1 for the bill despite objections from the chairman and administrators from Pinellas County School District. The objections raised concerns that it would slow down lunch lines.
Investments from the school district include a $300,000 computerized biometrics system set up to process lunch payments that uses palm prints from kids for identification. Officials said this allows the students more time to eat.
Biometrics uses personal identifying traits like fingerprints and palm prints. Other systems, as seen in many Hollywood movies, scan voices and eye irises for identification.
Tribune Staff writer James L. Rosica reported that bill sponsor Dorothy Hukill and parents have complained the technology resembles Big Brother. Last year parents learned Polk County schools were scanning children's eyes upon entering and exiting school buses without parental permission. The Connecticut based company Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, captured the images of 750 students before the project was stopped. The website for the company states that iris scans provide certain identification that is second only to DNA.
"There's no reason to scan a kid," Hukill said. "Just because government can do this doesn't mean government should do this."
Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Gov. Rick Scott as well as their representatives have expressed support for the bill. Committee Chairman Greg Evers was the only no vote questioning why the state would ban technology that has proven to be effective. He said the decision to ban the biometric system should be left up to the community after the meeting. Evers says the technology is not too invasive and that he feels like kids who have only 25-30 minutes to eat lunch should not have to wait in a line with hundreds of kids and that the current set up is the best way to do it.
"Look, I don't like Big Brother watching me, OK?" he said. "The truth of the matter is this is not a Big Brother situation because all you've got is a name and a handprint."
Barbara Liston with the Chicago Tribune reported that the district is the leader in the nation when it comes to the usage of palm scanners. These scanners look at the pattern of veins under the skin that are similar to the uniqueness of fingerprints. Schools tend to prefer these compared to other biometric devices because they are not part of law enforcement databases.
According to Khaliah Barnes, director of the student privacy project at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, biometric data is covered under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act that provides parents assured rights to their children's school records.
Hukill's bill now moves to the Judiciary Committee, and a companion bill (HB195) passed unanimously. The next legislative session begins March 4th.