York County Libertarian Party

York City Schools Implement Biometric Finger Scans Without Parental Consent

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School District Using Digital Finger Scans for Transactions


How would you feel if you knew your child’s school is using biometric jailhouse tracking technology to monitor your children and catalog their whereabouts without parental consent? Well, that’s exactly what’s going on in schools in the City of York.

Digital finger scans are nothing new. They’ve been a source of controversy across the U.S. and worldwide for quite some time, causing both privacy advocates and IT security professionals to sound warnings about their use and potential for abuse.

Dangers and Privacy Implications of Biometric Finger Scan Templates

According to outgoing superintendent Deborah Wortham, “the image captured cannot be replicated and changed into a fingerprint.” This is both conveniently disingenuous, yet technically accurate. It’s also inconsequential. What really matters is that when a child’s finger is scanned a unique biometric template belonging to that individual child is created and stored in a database.

Contrary to what apologists and scanner vendors say, concerns about the finger scanning systems are not limited to the paranoid and uninformed.

The state of Michigan prohibited finger scanners in schools on the grounds they violated children’s privacy. The Attorney General ruled finger scans violated provisions of the state’s Child Identification and Protection Act.

Kim Cameron, former Chief Architect of Identity in the Identity and Access Division at Microsoft explains it this way:

If you want to find out who owns a fingerprint, just convert the fingerprint to a template and do a search for the template in one of these databases. Call the template a binary number if you want to. The point is that all you need to save in the database is the number. Later, when you come across a “fingerprint of interest”, you just convert it to a number and search for it. Law enforcement can use this information – and so can criminals.

As you can see, outgoing superintendent Wortham was clearly speaking according to vendor talking points and not the accurate technical and privacy implications of the finger scanning system. Digital finger scans are just as good and long lasting as a fingerprint, for all practical intents and purposes.

IT Security consultant Brian Drury sends this stark warning with regards to subjecting children to biometric finger scans:

“If a child has never touched a fingerprint scanner, there is zero probability of being incorrectly investigated for a crime. Once a child has touched a scanner they will be at the mercy of the matching algorithm for the rest of their lives.”

Given the fact the school district set out to implement finger scans and store children’s biometric data without parental consent, there’s no reason to believe the data is being properly protected. The York Daily Record/Sunday News quotes one parent, who said “my concern is that they tried to do it without my permission. I don’t like that kind of sneaky stuff.”

Most, in fact – probably all – schools are ill-equipped when it comes to safeguarding the data captured by finger scanners. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recommends verification of expungement and/or deletion of data once a user exits a biometric system. I’m 100% sure this was never considered when the system was implemented and that a privacy policy is not in place.

Public officials like to get creative with how they use our personal information. Government databases are notorious for suffering from function creep. Databases initially intended for one type of use are eventually used for other purposes.

Don’t even bother expecting appropriate training of staff and chain of custody audits, etc. One only has to look at the York City Police Department’s deployment of license plate scanners to know how that would go. Don’t expect any of your elected officials to protect your children’s privacy interests, either. It’s up to us, me and you.

The finger scanning system also raises religious concerns from those who object to their children using biometrics to engage in transactions. Others, including myself, submit that the scanners acclimate children to a prison environment where privacy and self dignity are liquid concepts subject to the approval (and disapproval) of authorities.

Demand Accountability and Removal of the Scanners

It’s up to you – parents, residents, guardians and community members – to demand that the York City School District remove the scanners until officials can show proper understanding of the system’s capabilities and parents have been notified of all the potential dangers of the technology.

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