ENCINITAS, Calif. – A California school district wants to use facial recognition to automatically log students in and out of their school-issued iPads, but parents aren’t convinced it’s a good idea.
The Encinitas Union School District plans to launch a pilot program with about 100 students to test a new biometric technology that scans their face once per minute as a supposed security precaution to prevent others from accessing student iPads, The San Diego Union-Tribune reports.
But parents like Gil Saidy, whose third grade son attends Flora Vista Elementary School, are raising issues with how the pilot program will jibe with student privacy rights, and are leery about allowing the intrusive devices into their homes.
“It’s creepy to take a photograph of a kid every 60 seconds,” Saidy told the news site. “I don’t trust them. I don’t want these roving cameras in my house.”
Parent Darcy Brandon express similar concerns.
It’s a good question, but school officials don’t seem willing to discuss the district’s biometric plan.
They refused to divulge which schools will participate in the pilot program, or what the effort will involve. Superintendent Tim Baird and Rod Garlick, president of Virtual Keyring – the company behind the technology, did not return messages from the Union-Tribune for comment.
EUSD information technology director David Delacalazada wrote in an email to the news site that the pilot project is in a “proof of concept” phase as part of an $189,000 contract with Virtual Keyring, but refused to divulge further details.
Delacalazada wrote that the deal ensures “the district will be reimbursed all moneys paid if the pilot project is not successful.”
“Information will be sent out before anything is implemented districtwide,” according to a notice posted to the district’s website. “The goals of the project are to provide single sign-on capability as well as protection of student data.”
Parents will be given the option to opt their children out of the program if they want, the Union-Tribune reports.
Regardless, some parents and taxpayers believe the effort is a massive waste of money that could be much better spent on academics and actual classroom instruction.
“Critics of the program say it is wasteful spending and does little to allay their concerns over privacy,” according to the news site. “They also said it’s an unnecessary expense when schools are cutting music, arts and other programs.”
The move toward biometrics in Encinitas follows a trend of schools using new technology to track students for various reasons, from lunch room sales to student bus transportation. The first school to implement biometrics occurred in West Virginia in 2009, when officials used a fingerprint scanner as a means of tracking student lunch sales. Since then, other schools have scanned students’ eyes and palms for similar reasons, but the facial scans for iPad authentication is a first in the nation, Janice Kephart, CEO of Secure Identity & Biometrics Association, told the Union-Tribune.
“From a security point of view, biometrics prevents misappropriation of technology on the iPads in the homes of students, and ensures that mom doesn’t use it for work, or dad or older brother watch porn or play video games,” she said.
Another biometrics lobby, the International Biometrics & Identification Association, published a paper in May that alleges biometric technology is growing among U.S. schools, and provided an example of a St. Louis school that installed facial recognition as a security precaution, according to BiometricUpdate.
The facial recognition at the private St. Mary’s High School works using a database of scanned facial images of students and staff to identify unwanted visitors.
“When an enrolled person approaches a door in the school, a facial recognition camera verifies that he or she is authorized for entry by comparing the captured face to one stored in the database,” the IBIA explained in a news release.
“What’s more, the system can have undesirable persona added to the database, such as disgruntled staff, abusive parents and known sexual predators, and if they are identified by the facial recognition technology, select staff will be notified via SMS or email,” the release read.
The two-camera system at St. Mary’s is currently in place to scan visitors at the school’s two main entrances. The system itself costs $15,000, but the school is leasing it for $500 per month, StLToday.com reports.
Meanwhile, some states have banned biometric technology in schools over privacy concerns. Florida banned the technology in schools in 2014 over concerns about government intrusion, the Union-Tribune reports.
“Who owns the data?” questioned Florida state Sen. Dorothy Hukill, who led the effort. “Can it be sold, and what happens if it’s breached? Kids have moved through lunch lines for decades to buy grilled cheese sandwiches. Why do they now have to have their irises scanned?”