WESTMINSTER, Md. — After John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute, warned Maryland school officials about security and privacy concerns relating to its use of biometric palm scanners in school lunch lines, the Superintendent of Carroll County Public Schools announced his intention to cease installation of biometric palm readers in county schools and seek an alternative program to meet the District’s efficiency goals. The biometric devices scan the unique vein structure in a child’s palm and then match that unique identifier to stored information regarding the child’s lunch account.
According to news reports, “The scanners will continue to be used in the ten schools where they have already been installed until a decision has been made about which input method to use in the place of the palm scanners.” The Rutherford Institute has been vocal in warning school officials and communities against prioritizing the interests of governments and corporations over the privacy rights of students and families. Most recently, Institute attorneys came to the defense of a sophomore in a Texas public school who was expelled because she refused to wear an RFID tracking badge as part of the school’s campaign to track student whereabouts in order to secure state funding. The Institute is making an opt-out letter available to parents concerned about the use of biometric devices in other school districts.
“While this is a significant development in pushing back against the encroachment of the surveillance state in the schools, the battle is far from over—in this school district and everywhere else these tracking and surveillance programs are being implemented,” said constitutional attorney John W. Whitehead. “Communities need to hold government officials accountable to representing their interests, rather than marching in lockstep with programs aimed at enriching the schools and their corporate partners that don’t make the schools safer or help students learn more but merely advance the surveillance state.”
Palm scanning identification devices are becoming increasingly common throughout the country, and can be found in over 50 school systems and 160 hospital systems, spanning 15 states and Washington, DC. Public schools in Carroll County, Maryland, have implemented a biometric lunch program which involves scanning the palms of schoolchildren in order to allow them to purchase food. School officials claim the devices are intended to make cafeteria lunch lines more efficient and safeguard student meal accounts. The biometric palm reader takes an infrared picture of the palm’s vein structure and then matches that image with stored information to identify the child.
The Rutherford Institute, which has opposed many scanning and tracking programs being implemented in schools throughout the country, was asked to intervene after Mike Webb, the father of an elementary school-aged child in the Carroll County public school system, objected to his son being forced to participate in such a program. In calling on the Carroll County Board of Education to cease its implementation of the program or, at the very least, only allow students to enroll in the program with express written consent from a parent, John W. Whitehead warned school officials against making government tracking and surveillance ubiquitous in the schoolhouse and, in the process, desensitizing young people to threats to personal privacy when used in broader contexts.
As one corporation that sells biometric technologies to school districts confirmed, “[O]nce finger scanning is being used successfully in one part of the school, the idea migrates and is embraced in other areas as well.” These include the school’s front door, the classroom, the nurse’s office, the library, buses, athletic events and dances. Another company eagerly touts the fact that wireless biometric technology is in development to assist large schools with “hallway monitoring.”
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