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Intersection: Sidewalks & Public Space

Chapter by Melissa Ngo

"The Myth of Security Under Camera Surveillance"


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    Update: Maryland School District Ends Use of Palm Scanners

    We’ve discussed before the issue of businesses or schools gathering and sometimes storing their customers’ or students’ identification data. Businesses such as 24 Hour Fitness gyms and a Maryland recreation center began gathering customers’ fingerprints. The issue has arisen internationally, as well. Recently, ABC News (Australia) reported that the use of ID scanning and storing technology — and the collection of biometric data — is raising privacy questions in the country. Also recently, USA Today reported on the increasing use of palm-scanning technology at hospitals and schools in the United States.

    Now, the Baltimore Sun reports that one school district in Maryland has decided to end its use of biometric technology for students’ cafeteria payments after privacy protests:

    Carroll County school officials have discontinued use of a cafeteria checkout system with palm-scan technology after protests from parents who said the system violated their children’s privacy.

    School Superintendent Stephen Guthrie announced his decision Wednesday to halt use of the system, called PalmSecure, and to ask officials to look at other options. His announcement came after a meeting with County Commissioner Doug Howard, who cited concerns among parents who worried about possible security breaches. [...]

    PalmSecure identifies distinctive palm and vein patterns in the hand and converts that image into an encrypted algorithm, which links to a student’s account. The system has been put in place at 10 Carroll schools since early October.

    In announcing his decision, Guthrie said he wanted to avoid alienating what he called a “core group” of a few community members who raised the concerns.

    He said he believes the system is secure.

    When the system was first implemented, school officials sent opt-out forms and letters detailing PalmSecure home with children, but scanned the child’s biometric information before receiving the forms back. Ten percent of parents chose to opt out of the program, Guthrie said. [...]

    School officials are researching alternatives. An electronic point-of-sale system that allows parents to pre-pay for their students’ lunches will remain, but will likely be supplemented by a personal identification number or card-scanning device.

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