Aug 17 2012

Is Fingerprinting the Best Option for Identity Management in Schools?

A Florida school district’s move to explore biometrics for identity management could inspire others to follow suit.

The idea of being able to purchase a meal or borrow a library book with the swipe of their thumb probably seems pretty cool to most students. For school administrators, it would certainly cut down on a lot of paperwork and bureaucratic documentation.

In the movie Minority Report, Tom Cruise’s character, John Anderton, is identified by his iris, so advertisers can serve him personalized ads.

We’re not quite at that level yet, but the idea of biometrics — using the human body rather than a pin or student ID card as a form of identification — is something that seems futuristic and out of this world. It’s truly a marriage of man and machine.

Palm Beach County, Fla., officials recently surveyed the district’s principals on the use of biometrics for enhanced security and convenience.

The overwhelmingly positive results have led officials to propose a pilot program for bus riders, which would track who should and shouldn’t be on the bus, according to a blog post which The Palm Beach Post says came from Joe Sanches, chief of support operations for the school district.

The survey results proved that there’s plenty of goodwill toward biometrics in general.

In response to the statement, “The District should consider the use of biometrics in the future and not give up on its possible use with students at some point,” 72 percent of respondents either strongly agreed or agreed with the assertion.

But biometrics isn’t without its complexities.

For parents, biometrics as a form of identity authentication may raise privacy concerns, which has been the case in the past, Education Week points out.

The Palm Beach Post has the details on one pilot biometrics program that went bust because of parents’ reluctance to sign their kids up for the program.

Palm Beach County has dabbled in fingerprint technology in the past, with pilot projects in some school cafeterias like Don Estridge High Tech Middle School in Boca Raton. Food Services General Manager Allison Monbleau said that pilot was stopped about three years ago because parents had to sign and return a form to opt into the system. It only really worked if most of the majority of parents opted their children in, she said, or else the lunch line is slowed by too many children still entering their access codes.

Unfortunately, Monbleau said, few parents opted in at the pilot schools. As a result, the effectiveness of the biometric technology was hampered.

As with all things related to security, getting everyone on board with biometrics will require an investment in educating potential users on the benefits. It will also be critical for schools to use technology that ensures the safety and confidentiality of biometric data.

Has your school district deployed biometrics? Did it go well? What challenges did you face? Let us know in the Comments section.