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article imageSchool scans student biometric info without parents' permission

By Leigh Goessl     Jun 17, 2013 in Technology
A school district in Florida was in the process of developing a program that would track children riding its buses using biometric scanning. The program was halted after it was learned a company scanned the eyes of students without parental permission.
The Polk County School District was looking into contracting with a company to implement a biometric system that would track students riding the district's buses. The school notified parents about the pilot program in a letter at the end May, according to Fox News.
There was an opt-out option for the program for parents to choose, but in this case there was one problem. The company that would be servicing the program, Stanley Convergent Security Solutions, had already captured the images of approximately 750 students' eyes before the parents got the letter. They never had a chance to respond.
Additionally, at the time the scanning had been conducted, a contract had not yet been solidified. And parents didn't get the notification until over a week after the scanning of students' eyes started, reported RT.
How did this happen?
The Ledger reports there was a series of errors that led to this situation that included:
• Stanley Convergent representatives were allowed on three school campuses before the contract was completed.
• The district administrator's office that handles transportation and security, run by Rob Davis, did not send the notification on time to the school principals, thus no parental letters could be sent out.
• A request that was supposed to be sent to the school's interim superintendent for approval never made it to his office. Nor did staff members in charge of setting up the scanning have a conversation with the interim superintendent.
"It was almost a comedy of errors," said Wes Bridges, School Board attorney, reported The Ledger.
Parents were outraged when they found out the program had already begun to move forward without their knowledge ─ or permission. Many felt their children's privacy had been violated.
Biometric tracking program is halted
Based on parent reaction, the program was suspended and the district is no longer considering using biometrics as a solution to being able to keep track of its students on buses (which has been described as a problematic issue for the district). The data is said to have been deleted, but according to media reports, some parents are feeling leery.
Davis has reportedly taken responsibility for the lapses.
"At meetings that were held with other staff members, (district workers) agreed to do that," Davis said, according to the Ledger report. "It was under my division, and I don't want to put the blame on any other shoulder because I didn't do the checks and balances."
Although, he has also indicated he is also not sure how the program materialized this year. He said he thought it would begin next school cycle during the 2013-14 year.
"We learned a valuable lesson here, to say the least," Davis said. "It was truly not to fast track or invade anyone's privacy. It was trying to give parents an opportunity to have an extra layer of security if they chose that."
Reportedly, Stanley Convergent did not respond to media requests for a statement.
Is electronically tracking students in the future?
While once less reliable, today's biometric technologies are more improved. Eye scanning is one of the techniques that has become increasingly popular and is probable to be used in a variety of security scenarios as the future arrives. According to TechNewsDaily, the type of scanner Stanley Convergent Security Systems was using can scan up to 50 people per minute that pass the scanner.
As the technology becomes more widely used and more cost-effective, chances are more schools are going to want to look into using this or another in some shape or form. Electronic tracking seems to be an appealing possibility for some school districts. Just last year a controversy emerged in Texas over students carrying "tracking cards". Tracking students using some method of technology or another has seemingly become an option more and more districts are seeking to embrace.
But is conducting student tracking through technology the way to go?
More about Biometrics, Biometric, iris scanning, Polk county, Florida
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