Get yer Mark of the Beast and Fish Sticks Here?!

One of the mommy friends called me a few days ago. She’d read online that the Hawkins County school system was shifting to biometric IDs to track lunch accounts: she thought we should protest.

Huh?

I’d heard the cafeterias were shifting to biometric identification. The school system had solicited public comment on the plan over the summer, but I didn’t comment or give it much thought. I was more concerned they were planning to use wii’s in PE class. Oh, there’s nothing wrong with wii’s in PE class, I suppose – but I do worry that we’re (a) not teaching our children how to balance the virtual world with the real one, (b) not allowing them enough time to explore and invent simple ways to entertain themselves, (c) raising a generation of non-Dodge ball playing weenies because yes, catching an overinflated ball to the kidneys is character building and (d) I’m just jealous that I was never permitted to play PacMan in PE.

I caught The Original‘s push to turn the Presidential Fitness Program into a “Challenge” – one that had students across the country dangling on chin-up bars while hairy-legged gym teachers in polyester short-shorts screamed for encouragement. Things like that can scar a person, ya know.

So maybe wii’s aren’t so bad. After all, things change, right? Some changes are for the better. And isn’t it possible that use of biometric data for identification is positive change?  In order to determine this, I think you have to develop a basic understanding of the technology, be aware of the problems it is intended to resolve versus those it could create.

First of all, we aren’t talking about a centralized massive data-gathering program that involves every U.S. citizen (I’d probably object to something like that) but a proprietary ID program, which will be owned, controlled and used exclusively by the county school system, and they are required by state and federal law to delete or destroy the information when a child exits the school system.

As for a provider, Hawkins County has opted to go with identiMetrics, a company which specializes in biometric scanners and software for educational facilities. After a quick check, I can find no record of any identiMetrics employee having made a substantial contribution to the Republican party – which might not make you feel better but it sure eases my mind.

Now – to enter a child into the ID system, the finger is scanned, the identiMetrics software recognizes and create a pattern of unique points on a grid to correspond with fingerprint ridges. A numeric code is generated. This string of numbers is stored on a biometric template, and the fingerprint is discarded. When the child travels through the lunch line, he or she submits the finger, the print is matched to the corresponding template and the appropriate amount deducted from the child’s account.

The system, if it operates as intended, would be more effective than the current method of student identification, which consists of using a four digit PIN. As it is, students enter this # independently on a keypad – a number they frequently forget, enter incorrectly, attempt to loan to friends, and chant like mini-Gregorian monks while standing in line.

Basically, the system is prone to errors because children as young as 5 years-old play an active role in the accounting process. And the first form of oversight is the lunch lady, who approves the ID of 400 kids coming through in two separate lines – while simultaneously yelling things like, “Lil Bob, you don’t need seven forks. Put it back, put it back. Put that down. Put it back. Don’t squirt that. Stop pushing. Put it back. One fork please. No, you cannot get six desserts. Hey, no spitting!”

The biometric ID would address some of those problems by eliminating the forgotten PINs, offering additional protection for student lunch accounts, ensuring a higher rate of accuracy, and reducing potential for administrative errors. It cannot, however, keep Lil’ Bob from jabbing his classmates in the rear with a plastic spork.

So why are parents throughout the county objecting? Well, there seems to be several reasons:

There are those, who are convinced biometric identification is the The Mark of the Beast. And you’d think, since this chatter has been floating around for over a week now, some of our local pastor-type people might jump in with their Biblical knowledge to set the record straight.

Nope, apparently, all of the pastor-type people are off busily crafting their sermons, wherein they point out the likenesses between Obama and the Anti-Christ… but, you know, without coming right out and calling him the Anti-Christ because such a thing might be considered racist or otherwise politically incorrect, which they’d like to avoid because though they believe we are entering end times, they’re still terrified of Al Sharpton’s Wrath.

This means it’s up to to me to inform you that 1) Obama is not the anti-christ so much as a really, really bad idea and (2) biometric IDs are not the Mark of the Beast. According to scripture, the mark will be received. With a biometric scan, you receive nothing. The technology uses existing the God-given identifiers you were born with and which are unique to you. Also, the intent of the mark as indicated in Revelation is to identify those bearing the mark as followers of the “beast” – which is also not the case here. But because I don’t want to deceive you, I checked to be sure.

Hawkins County school officials assure me that students participating in the biometric identification system will be under no obligation whatsoever to swear allegiance or worship the school lunch lady. In fact, the Hawkins County School system advises against the worship or religious-type following of any staff or board member – as this would be just really weird.

Okay, they didn’t actually say that. They were mostly offended by the notion that half the county thinks they’re acting as a mark distributor for the devil. But the point here is: you are not and will never be required to kneel before anyone wearing plastic gloves and a hair net.

Other group of parents fear the scans would be a violation of their child’s privacy. They don’t want their kids “fingerprinted” or “tracked” like criminals. Contrary to the rumors, your child’s fingerprint will not be on file. Likewise, students are not being tagged or tracked – this would be RFID technology, which is entirely different and is used only by Walmart and in the Netherlands. What’s being proposed here is an identification system, dependent on student participation in order to track student activities, such as lunch accounts, checking out library books, or attendance – things which are already tracked but with less effective methods.

Other parents have expressed concerns about the increased risk for identity theft.  Honestly, the risks associated with having your child’s biometric “code” (which appears as non-identifiable numerical gibberish) in the system are minimal compared to the risk of having their PIN number floating around.  Plus, your child’s “biometric code” will be secure and private (as defined by the current policy on use of student records.) Yes, the information will be accessible through the county network.  Yes, it can be shared with other agencies under certain conditions and used to compile statistical data. No, it will not be shared with the identiMetric corporation, the Illuminati, the Bilderburg group, the Republicans, the Russians, or swarthy looking men in black trenchcoats.  Likewise, there are specific rules prohibiting the sharing of student data with space aliens and/or any Lizard People sent by Queen Elizabeth.

I suppose the data could be compromised (though I tend to think most evil genuis computer hackers stick with more ambitious hacking-type activities – such as compromising government networks and/or developing malicious code with can make large naked ladies dance randomly on the screen) but hey – in keeping with our current theme of complete paranoia: let’s imagine that your School Principal is an undercover CIA agent sent to the school in order to maintain files on all 3rd graders suspected of terrorist activities.  In order to obtain any information from the data, other than how many fish sticks were purchased, he or she would need to recreate a fingerprint.  Recreating a complete fingerprint from a template is impossible – BUT there is technology available which can recreate a partial print with a high margin of error.  And what can be done with a partial print? Eh, not much really.  It can be compared to prints already on file for high score matches – which is again imprecise and therefore useless. And unless your child has knocked-off a liquor store and already has prints on file, a hypothetical data comparison as performed by the CIA operative principal would be impossible.

You know, given that the odds of this happening are right on par with the odds of Lizard people taking over the world and outlawing the practice of dentistry: I’m going to say the benefits outweigh the risks here: and the accuracy, privacy and protection offered by the biometric ID make it superior to the system currently in place.

Also, as I told my Mommy friend – participation is optional. Those parents, who are uncomfortable with the technology can always opt-out by not signing the consent form. No protest will be necessary… wait – unless we’re talking a picket-sign type protest during which I might get to throw rotten fruit at former gym teachers: then maybe you can sign me up.  You know, just for kicks.

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2 thoughts on “Get yer Mark of the Beast and Fish Sticks Here?!

  1. An excellent rehash of Identimetrics’ corporate propaganda. You make a truly excellent corporate shill Angie, I hope that this benefits you financially since you should be compensated for your hard work.

    By the way, it’s opt-out, not opt-in. If you don’t sign the sheet, your children are enrolled in the program. It’s a violation of law to scan fingers without probable cause, reasonable suspicion, a warrant, or consent, but who cares about that, our leaders don’t need to follow no stinking laws.

    According to Identimetrics, the cafeteria is just the foot in the door. Soon it will be school-system wide, then county wide, and it will not be optional.

    From their corporate propaganda, a grand plan:

    “The cafeteria is usually the first area in the school to embrace biometrics. With up to 80% of students forgetting or losing their cards on a daily basis or forgetting or sharing their PINs, lines are slowed and mistakes are made. Biometrics will be used:

    * in vending machines to ensure positive identification of children eating free or reduced lunch

    * for attendance to eliminate “buddy punching” and provide irrefutable proof of attendance and help cut down on “class cutting” when attendance is taken on a period-by-period basis

    * in the library to checkout books

    * in the nurse’s office to make sure that the students are receiving the correct medication.

    How do you begin to implement biometrics on campus?

    Start by making small improvements. You want to improve productivity, record keeping and of, course, safety. Take baby steps! Identify and assess your “pain.” Where in your school could the use of finger scanning instead of cards and PINs save you time and money? We have found that in most schools it’s in the cafeteria.

    Why the cafeteria?

    About 65% of purchasing that is not facilities-related in schools is done by food service departments. Food service is a business and it needs to run efficiently.

    There’s a growing interest in the use of biometrics for student ID in school cafeterias nationwide. By just about every measure, finger scanning biometrics outpace other options for efficiency and ease. When a child presses a finger into a scanner, there’s no doubt about his or her identity. There’s no risk of lost ID cards or forgotten PIN numbers.

    There’s no chance of fraudulent use of the child’s meal account by someone else. Biometric ID also provides anonymity and eliminates any stigma for the children who receive free or reduced-price lunches, (therefore increasing) participation in the National School Lunch Program. And increased participation – can translate into more funding for districts.

    Another key area of focus is healthier vending. Instead of going to the cafeteria, a student can purchase a prepaid, reimbursable meal from a vending machine. The machines being tested are tied into a point-of-sale system, and they can track the purchases to prevent a student from buying two lunches on the same day. And biometric finger scanning will ensure accurate record keeping – a must for federal and state reimbursement.

    What should a school think about when choosing the right biometric solution?

    Choose a biometric identification platform that can eventually be used throughout your entire school. This means that students should be enrolled only once to be identified in a variety of areas in the school – the cafeteria, the front door or classroom for attendance, the nurse’s office, the library and the office for absence information entry. It’s just impractical to expect a Principal to disrupt the entire school to enroll the entire student body for each application that requires student identification.

    Make sure that it can scale if needed. Some biometric technologies work great with ten students or less in a standalone environment, but fail miserably as the number of students increase in a networked environment. A more robust biometric technology might cost a bit more, but will be worth it in the long run.

    Make sure that it can integrate with your software applications that you already have in place, if you don’t want to replace them. Ask about performance accuracy. There are basically four metrics: false acceptance, false rejection, failure to enroll and failure to acquire rates. False acceptance rates are what you should be most concerned about. That means I place my finger on the scanner and your name comes up. Compare, but not just on price. Check up on customer support and rollout experience. Once again, make sure the technology works in a practical school setting and not just in a vendor lab.

    Communication, communication and communication! Make sure everyone – parents, teachers, students, administrators, the school board and the media have up to date and accurate information about biometrics. identiMetrics has a “Guide to Implementing Biometrics” that includes, for instance, sample letters to parents, biometric FAQs, best practices and other important information to make the whole process run smoothly and easily.”

    source: the same place you got it — http://www.identimetrics.net/articles/ASK-THE-EXPERTS-Education-am.doc

  2. Deborah,

    To my understanding, parental consent is required and yes, parents can opt-out. Furthermore, should this system ever become standard procedure in school cafeterias, you still have the option of packing your child’s lunch. Until the time comes when they force all student to submit to the program against the will of their parents or under the threat of expulsion or prosecution: the argument that this violates constitutional rights won’t fly.

    As long as you have a choice, you have freedom. Sometimes, we give up freedom because the other option sucks – but that’s still a choice.

    I also agree the appeal of identiMetrics is probably it’s versatility. As you know the school libraries use the same method of SSN-based identification. Ideally, if the program is successful in the lunch room, the same database could be used in the school library (ALTHOUGH THERE ARE NO PLANS TO DO SO AT THIS TIME.) I tend to consider the decision to go with a program having expansion capabilities a more prudent one than selecting a software system, which would have to later be replaced or would require a separate database to be maintained should they decide to use biometric IDs in the library.

    And FYI, identiMetrics was not my only source. In addition to my personal experiences at the schools and seeing the problems firsthand – I also talked with several parents and Mrs. Snodgrass. I’ve read tech articles and news articles, as well as message boards from the UK where biometric ID systems are widely used in educational facilities and are hotly contested by parents.

    I intentionally sought out opposing views and found many – but few that I would consider factual, credible or hell just held by someone who doesn’t also wear a tin foil hat. The only plausible argument against the program or “conflicting” information is that provided by Christopher Hill @ the Australian National University. You’ll find a link to his thesis in the post – as well as the link to identiMetrics site.

    Ultimately, after considering all the information – I offered my opinion as stated by me – here – on my blog that I pay for with my money. You’re certainly free to form your own, and I don’t mind if you disagree with me or call me a corporate shill. I’d even be tickled if you stated your disagreements here in your own words – as opposed to cutting and pasting from a previously-linked website without really stating your point. You oppose the program because it’s a violation of your rights? How? We should reject the program – why? Because they might use it elsewhere, which is bad because?

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