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State lawmakers continue to place restrictions on biometrics in schools


Several U.S. states have implemented bans or restrictions on the use of biometric technologies in schools as concerns over student privacy have increased in response to recent breaches of government and commercial databases, according to a report by The PEW Charitable Trusts.

In recent years, many schools across the country have been using student ID cards with embedded radio frequency chips or fingerprint, iris or palm-vein recognition scanners to take attendance, notify parents where their children get off the school bus or expedite queues in the cafeteria.

Earlier this year, Florida became the first state in the nation to ban the use of biometric identification in its schools. Others states have followed suit with Kansas schools stating that they cannot collect biometric data without student or parental consent.

Similarly, New Hampshire, Colorado and North Carolina have all said the state education departments cannot collect and store biometric information as part of student records.

Meanwhile, some lawmakers have questioned whether these technologies are actually necessary in schools and if they are just another excuse for government surveillance.

Missouri state Sen. Ed Emery sponsored a law, which went into effect earlier this month, that restricts how school districts can use RFID technology and gives parents the option to exclude their children from biometric identification.

In May, Florida state Sen. Dorothy Hukill sponsored legislation signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott to ban the use of biometric identification in Florida schools after the Polk County school system launched a retina scanning pilot program last year without any parental consent.

A few other states including Texas have also implemented seen similar action by lawmakers, with state Rep. Lois Kolkhorst pushing RFID legislation similar to Missouri’s in recent years.

The laws address increasing concerns among parents and lawmakers about biometric technologies, how they are being used, what student data is being gathered and stored and what security measures are safeguarding the information.

In total, 36 states have considered 110 bills this year alone regarding the collection and security of student data, according to Data Quality Campaign, a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy group that calls for the effective use of data in education.

At least 39 of the 110 bills specifically discussed biometric data, according to Data Quality Campaign’s records, including 14 bills that were successfully passed.

“Technology is moving so fast,” said Paige Kowalski, director of state policy and advocacy for the campaign. “I think that’s why you’re seeing these new laws. I think people are nervous about it. It’s new. It’s different from when we were kids. I think there’s a desire to use (technology), and a desire to slow down. We want to know exactly how it’s being used … so we don’t sacrifice too much privacy.”

Jay Frey, CEO of identiMetrics, a developer of biometric devices for schools, said biometric identification is currently being used in more than 1,000 school districts in 40 states from Alaska to Long Island, New York. West Virginia uses the technology in 70 percent of its 57 school districts, he said.

He also pointed out that parents should be aware and consent to the use of biometric identification technology before it is actually deployed, ensuring that those parents who don’t want their children using it should be given the option to opt out.

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