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.
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.