GENEVA, Ill. – Students and faculty at Harrison Street Elementary School just love the new thumbprint scanner in the school’s lunch line, but civil rights experts are warning parents about serious privacy concerns with the technology.
The Geneva Unit District 304 replaced a different biometric scanner system for school lunch lines this year with devices from a local company, PushCoin Inc., that read students’ thumb prints to track their accounts, the Daily Herald reports.
“It’s good, because you don’t have to carry your own money or anything like that,” fifth-grader Quinlan Bobeczko told the news site. “It’s just there. Your thumb is easy, because you just have to put your thumb on (the device).”
Officials in several area school districts are watching District 304 in hopes of installing similar devices in their schools.
East Maine Elementary District 63 spokeswoman Janet Bishop said the district hired PushCoin Inc. this spring to begin offering the thumb scan option this month, and Lake Zurich Unit District 95 board president Doug Goldberg said schools there will implement the biometric scanners in the 2016-17 school year, the Daily Herald reports.
“I will tell you that many of the kids aren’t very good about keeping track of their ID cards,” Goldberg said. “And so moving to biometrics was felt to be sort of the next generation of that individual, unique ID. We’ll record their thumbprints, there will be thumbprint readers at all the cash registers, and they’ll simply come by and — bang — hit their thumbprint. It makes it faster and, also, there’s a lot less opportunity for any kind of misuse or fraud when they’re using biometrics.”
PushCoin Inc. allows parents to closely monitor their children’s lunch accounts through email updates, and the company’s CEO, Anna Lisznianski contends the scanners can help school officials use lunch time more efficiently.
“With more busy parents relying on schools to provide meals to their children, more and more schools seek a balanced solution to crowded cafeterias,” she said.
The thumb scanners are not a new technology, but an increasing number of schools seem to be embracing it and other biometric technology to streamline lunch lines by eliminating lost lunch cards and reminding parents about past due accounts ahead of time.
EAGnews documented numerous school districts across the country that have implemented biometric technology in recent years – from thumb, finger and iris scanners for school lunch accounts to schools using facial recognition to track students on campus and online – as well as lawmakers and experts warning against the practice.
Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the ACLU-Chicago, told the Daily Herald that lunch line thumb scanners and other biometric data collection in schools sends the wrong message to students about protecting their privacy.
“I think it undermines the notion of really thinking about the importance of your biometrics as a matter of privacy,” Yohnka said. “I think in this age, when so much is available and so much is accessible online about us and there is all this information that floats out there, to begin to include in this one’s biometrics, it really does raise some legitimate concerns.”
Local law enforcement officials, for example, could subpoena fingerprints from a vendor like PushCoin to track down student criminals, he said.
Other child psychology experts echoed Yohnka’s privacy concerns.
“At some point, Big Brother is going to have a lot of information on us and where is that going to go?” University of Washington psychology professor Laura Kastner told the Daily Herald. “And that’s just for parents to consider. But from a kid point of view, they have no idea what they’re giving up and, once again, the slippery slope in what’s called habituation.”
“We’re getting so used to giving up data about ourselves,” she said.
Officials told the news site that the vast majority of the roughly 6,000 students in District 304 use the thumb scanner, and they’ve received no complaints from parents.