Florida to School Districts: No More Biometric Scanning of Our Kids

Paul Lagarde | June 6, 2014 | 4:29pm EDT
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Florida Gov. Rick Scott (AP photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Florida became the first state in the U.S. to ban the scanning of students for biometric information when Gov. Rick Scott signed the Education Data Privacy Act into law May 12th

The sweeping new privacy law prohibits any K-12 institutions from “collecting or retaining information regarding the political affiliation, voting history, religious affiliation, or biometric information of a student, parent, or sibling of a student.”

Examples of biometric information include fingerprint scans, palm scans, retina or iris scans, facial geometry scans, and voiceprints.

The new law allows a grace period of one academic year for schools currently using palm scanners for meal programs, but all other collection of biometric data must stop immediately.

State Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange), who introduced the bill, says she became concerned last year when she found out that Polk County was scanning children’s irises before allowing them onto the school bus.

Polk County did not notify parents or ask for their consent before instituting this practice, according to Hukill. She said she later found out that Pinellas County was scanning children’s palms in the lunch line in order to speed up the process.

“My issue is not how easy it is for the lunchroom worker. I appreciate their job and I appreciate what they do. That’s no reason to give up a kid’s privacy,” Hukill said.

Hukill says she was shocked when she first heard about the school districts’ biometric scanning of young children.

“Nobody even knew about it. I never knew about it. I didn’t believe it when I heard it. I'm like everyone else,” she told CNSNews.com. "What are you talking about? This can't happen."

“I’m a former teacher,” Hukill continued. “You’re telling me you can’t get a kid on a bus without scanning their iris? Really? You can’t give them a grilled cheese sandwich without scanning their veins? I don’t think so. I don't think so.”

"And then you know what, the privacy issues are very, very important. And one of the other big issues is that we will be desensitizing generations of children into giving up their private information for basically no reason," she said.

“I think it’s an overreach,” Hukill added. “There’s no reason for school districts to not be able to perform the task they’ve been able to do for decades. And why in the world would someone get it into their head to start collecting biometric information? These are not adults. This is not commerce.”

“Government has no business collecting biometric data on children. Absolutely no business,” she stated.

“We start with kids at five years old and say ‘put your face here'," describing the scanner as "looking like a pair of binoculars."

"They have no idea," she pointed out.

Hukill also stressed the risk of identity theft that comes with collecting students' biometric information and the unique problems this practice poses.

“Barring something physically happening or you dying, you cannot change this kind of information,” she said. “People tell me that it [biometric information] can’t be stolen. Really? Tell that to the White House. People have been able to pierce the White House, the CIA, the FBI, Target, everyone. This stuff can always be stolen.”

Florida is not the only state that has collected biometric information within its school system. Hukill mentioned that there are at least 15 to 20 other states that engage in this practice, but said that none of them had been successful so far in banning it despite efforts in other state legislatures to do so.

“I think we’re just starting to become aware that it is an issue,” Hukill said. “When people hear about it, they are absolutely shocked.”

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