Benefits of Biometric Programs in Schools Dismissed as Florida Senate Casts Near Unanimous Vote to Ban Biometrics in All Schools Vote based on misconceptions regarding possible identity theft, says SIBA

WASHINGTON, March 28, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- The Florida Senate's near unanimous vote yesterday to ban biometrics in all schools lacks common sense and denies schools the opportunity to improve safety, standards and fiscal accountability. The Senate vote is based on misunderstood science and penalizes the entire state because two districts out of 67 counties failed to follow simple and obvious program protocols. As a result, sensible biometric program implementation that includes these protocols in places like Miami-Dade are threatened because legislators believe that using biometrics to keep kids safe on buses and well fed in the lunchroom could lead to identity theft.

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The mistake Polk County made in failing to get parental consent for its bus-safety iris-scan program and Pinellas County for its lunchtime palm-print program can be resolved. The Miami-Dade School Board has the right idea, placing two core requirements upfront on biometric programs: parents must provide informed consent, and the schools must protect all student biometric information, including not sharing it outside the district.

Janice Kephart, founder and CEO of the Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA) said this: "It is a myth that identity theft and biometrics go hand-in-hand. Biometrics helps prevent identity theft. I should know. I drafted the digital federal criminal identity theft law signed by President Clinton in 1998 and used by federal prosecutors to go after identity thieves. SIBA is a huge supporter of protecting identity, and biometrics are key to that."

Biometric technologies do not store identities; they store templates, or a series of numbers, to correspond to the mathematical features of the physical attribute, whether it is an iris, palm or fingerprint. The state can require that no actual biometric images are stored as well, which is the case with most programs that exist today. Vendors usually do not store images in order to protect privacy and adhere to international standards, assuring that a system breach would only provide a jumble of useless numbers. Reverse engineering back into an image is difficult. Even if an image were obtained, identifying a particular child from just an iris or fingerprint, for example, is impossible.

To further assure privacy, names are kept separate from the biometric templates, encrypted, and not directly linked with the biometric data. That way, even if hackers manage to break encryption, the result would be templates with no other identifying information. In addition, biometric systems today include "anti-spoofing" to distinguish imposters from the real person.

Biometric authentication enables a dramatically higher degree of assurance that you are whom you say you are, providing both privacy and security and making it extremely difficult for imposters to use the data. In fact, if biometric authentication were more widely used for credit-card transactions than personal-identification-number signatures, for example, the impact of the Target identity heist would be vastly reduced.

Neither are biometrics unfamiliar territory, even for kids. People like iPhone 5's fingerprint passcode because neither parents nor kids can easily break into each other's phones and snoop.

Florida is not the first to consider biometrics in schools. Schools in the United Kingdom, Africa, India and the U.S. are using biometrics successfully for both faculty and students to determine attendance and provide services, for example. West Virginia's Beverly Blough, director of food service for Wood County Schools, implemented a fingerprint school-lunch program in 2009 when her schools, highly dependent on federal dollars, were unable to reliably account for school lunches as required by federal law. The program has widespread support because of its proven benefits, including more time for lunch, no more lost IDs, and budget accountability.

In a 2010 interview with the National Biometric Security Project, Blough said, "The main ingredient to a successful biometric system may be to get parents on board early. I was prepared that there would be some negative reaction. We told parents: We are not going to force you. If you object to this, you may opt out. Considering the number of students, we really have a very small number of people that have chosen not to allow their children to be scanned."


Janice Kephart


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SOURCE Secure Identity & Biometrics Association (SIBA)

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