LAKE ZURICH, Ill. – Officials at Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 want students to use a new fingerprint scanner they believe will streamline transactions in the school lunch line.
The district plans to join hundreds of others already using biometric technology – fingerprint or palm scans, iris readers or facial recognition – to track student accounts, or students themselves, but the American Civil Liberties Union is questioning whether the potential risks to student privacy outweigh the benefits, the Lake Zurich Courier reports.
“The fact is students are being funneled into these programs either through some reduced pricing or some efficiency, like being able to move through lines quicker,” ACLU of Illinois director Ed Yohnka said. “There are also larger implications whether parents are given ample information about what the privacy ramifications are – to be able to make a meaningful decision for their families.”
District 95 officials approved a new fingerprint-payment system for school lunch accounts in February and are presenting it as an option for parents in the upcoming year, school board president Doug Goldberg said.
The intent is to simplify lunch accounts while replacing the district’s current food-service software. The new PushCoin system incorporates a cloud-based payment system with a school webstore, parent portal, administrative site, and point-of-sale app, the Courier reports.
“The option of using biometric is being implemented as a convenience to avoid issues with the need to carry and retain a payment card,” Goldberg said. “It is one option of the payment system and is not mandatory to use.”
The plan to implement biometric scans in District 95 is only the latest in what’s become a movement of schools implementing face scanners, thumb readers and other contraptions to track students, EAGnews reports.
And the trend seems to be building despite warnings from civil rights and technology experts.
The answer to the Courier headline – “Will fingerprint scans at Lake Zurich School District 95 protect students’ privacy? – is “no,” according to experts.
“Parents are very nervous, and rightfully so, when third parties are empowered to build dossiers on their children,” Fordham Law School professor Joel Reidenberg told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last year. “Unless they have a means of learning what data is collected, they have no way to independently assess the risks to their children, and whether this is a good or bad product.”
In 2015, The Post-Gazette reviewed 143 education technology providers in Pennsylvania and found the amount of student information collected and how it’s used varied widely. Glogster EDU, a Czech Republic-based smartphone app used in Pennsylvania schools collects students’ “name, address, email … date of birth, gender, country … interests, hobbies, lifestyle choices, groups with whom they are affiliated (schools, companies), videos and/or pictures, private messages, bulletins or personal statements,” according to the news site.
That information could be sold or shared with “consumer products, telecom, financial, military, market research, entertainment, and educational services companies,” according to the company’s website.
In Lake Zurich, more than 5,600 families will have the option of enrolling in the PushCoin system, which co-founder and CEO Anna Lisznianski said is very careful with student data. She told the Courier that the system, which is already in sue in Geneva District 304, does not store or transmit fingerprints, and deletes old data after 120 days. Illinois law prohibits companies from collecting or storing biometric data without expressed written consent.
PushCoin is used in nearly 100 schools, Lisznianski said.
Chicago-Kent College of Law research associate Alexandra Franco pointed out for the Courier that numerous private companies are currently embroiled in lawsuits over their use of biometric data, as well as a significant problem with using biometric identification.
“You can change a number, but you can’t change your fingerprint,” Franco said.
Franco, meanwhile, questioned if there’s even really a need for parents to expose their children to the potential privacy risks.
“How necessary I it to have a fingerprint reader at a school cafeteria?” Franco said.