LANCASTER - Using fingerprints, voice tones and eye-movement patterns has long been the stuff of spy movies, but the use of biometrics is now coming to the Lancaster School District.
The district plans this fall to use a fingerprint scanner at El Dorado School to help speed up the lunch line. Officials say it backs up when youths enter their ID numbers on a keypad to buy lunch.
"With kindergartners and first-graders, even students who go away for summer or for break, there are issues of remembering their number," said Connie Conrad, director of child nutrition. "It's a lot easier not to have a crying child, trying to get their name from them."
While school administrators rave about being able to expedite the lunch line and make operations more efficient, the system worries officials at the American Civil Liberties Union.
"Anytime we collect biometric data, it creates a huge danger that data can end up misplaced or someone else can get a hold of it," said Peter Eliasberg, an ACLU attorney. "It's a really bad idea."
But Lancaster officials, representatives from the firm supplying the device, and a Santa Barbara school district already using it say those fears are unwarranted.
The device takes an image of the fingerprint and converts 15 points from the print to an encrypted code used to identify the student. The print is then discarded and can't be reproduced if someone were to hack into the system.
"Our system doesn't store a copy of the child's fingerprint. It creates a proprietary identity template, which can't be turned into a fingerprint or used outside of the system," said Kevin Creel with M2SYS, the Atlanta firm that developed the device. "There is absolutely no privacy risk to parents or kids."
"The fear is we are fingerprinting people. We are not doing that at all," said Bill Schaaff, Lancaster's child nutrition computer systems specialist. For those parents who are still concerned, Lancaster will make the program voluntary and allow students to continue to use the PIN system if they want to.
The 1,200-student Hope School District in Santa Barbara piloted the program last fall and has been using it at all three of its campuses since December.
Some parents expressed concern over the fingerprinting and not wanting their children's meals tracked. They also raised the issue of sanitation, said Julie Wood, Hope's business manager.
About 10 to 12 parents opted out of the program, Wood said.
Wood said her district gave a demonstration to ACLU officials, who said they were OK with it as long the district made it voluntary and the students' codes were erased from the system once they graduated.
Lancaster Daily News
Sunday July 29, 2007
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