Lake Zurich school district will use fingerprint IDs for student purchases
Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 joins a growing number of Illinois school districts instituting biometric-information-based technology for purchases, raising concerns about privacy.
Starting in fall 2016, 5,600 Lake Zurich students and their families will be able to use a service that allows students to scan their fingerprints to buy food in the cafeteria, according to the Lake Zurich Courier. This technology links students’ fingerprints with their payment information and eliminates the need for students to carry payment cards or cash. Yet, despite the speed and convenience the new system offers, privacy advocates are concerned about the collection, storage and use of students’ biometric, or biologically derived, data.
Doug Goldberg, district board president, defended the decision to install the scanning technology in a statement to the Lake Zurich Courier: “The option of using biometric is being implemented as a convenience to avoid issues with the need to carry and retain a payment card.” Goldberg further noted the district has not made using the fingerprint system mandatory.
Lake Zurich is not the only Illinois school district to adopt technology that uses biometric markers such as fingerprints for identification in transactions. Geneva Community Unit School District 304, East Maine Elementary District 63 in Des Plaines, DeKalb Unit District 428 and River Bend Unit District 2 in Fulton have fingerprint scanners for purchases, or have engaged technology vendors to install the devices.
Although it’s not hard to see how fingerprint-based purchases would be convenient for students and parents, privacy concerns abound. Ed Yohnka, director of communications and public policy for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, told the Courier he worries parents and students lack sufficient information about the technology and the potential misuse of it.
“There are … larger implications whether parents are given ample information about what the privacy ramifications are — to be able to make a meaningful decision for their families,” Yohnka said.
In an interview with the Daily Herald, Yohnka noted the potential for government agencies such as law enforcement to access students’ biometric data. He questioned whether police investigating a crime could subpoena students’ fingerprints from a fingerprint system vendor. (Anna Lisznianski, the CEO of PushCoin, a vendor of the fingerprint technology service used in many Illinois schools, defended the security features of the system, and told the Daily Herald the images PushCoin generates from students’ fingerprints are not detailed enough for law enforcement purposes.)
Laura Kastner, a University of Washington professor specializing in child psychology, worries parents and schools are conditioning their children to accept intrusion into their privacy and to surrender extremely personal data with little reflection. “At some point, Big Brother is going to have a lot of information on us and where is that going to go?” Kastner said in an interview with the Daily Herald. “[F]rom a kid point of view, they have no idea what they’re giving up and, once again, the slippery slope in what’s called habituation.”
Given that the fingerprint-transaction technology allows parents to see what their children buy for lunch, as well as the nutritional profiles of that food, it isn’t hard to imagine a system in which schools and other government agencies tap into that information, too. And although Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act, or BIPA, makes it illegal for a private entity to obtain, store or use a person’s biometric identifier or information without that person’s consent, the BIPA expressly excludes state agency or local government personnel from those prohibitions.
In fact, although tech companies such as Facebook, Shutterfly, Google and Snapchat have all faced lawsuits under the BIPA, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White announced May 17 that by the end of July, Illinois will use facial-recognition technology to create driver’s licenses with enhanced security features. White said this will protect Illinoisans from identity theft, according to the Chicago Tribune, and the changes are also required for Illinois to comply with the federal Real ID Act by 2018.
The ACLU’s Yohnka told the Chicago Tribune he thought the new state ID system could actually make identity theft more likely and worries about establishing a route to government surveillance.
Technological innovation such as facial-recognition software and fingerprint scanners has introduced the possibility of apprehending terrorists before they board planes, as well as the convenience of a student using nothing but his own fingerprints to buy his lunch. But once the government – whether local, state or federal – has access to private citizens’ unique facial details or fingerprints, along with names and addresses, it could be difficult for citizens to control who sees the information and how it is used.