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Making the Grade: Biometrics in K-12 is a dangerous path to take

Biometrics has gone from something we used to only see in the movies to a natural part of our lives. We are used to using tools like Face ID and Touch ID to unlock our devices. In K–12 schools, companies are looking to take it even further, though. I recently read an article in EdTech Magazine that looked further at the use of biometrics in K-12 schools.

About Making The Grade: Every Saturday, Bradley Chambers publishes a new article about Apple in education. He has been managing Apple devices in an education environment since 2009. Through his experience deploying and managing 100s of Macs and 100s of iPads, Bradley will highlight ways in which Apple’s products work at scale, stories from the trenches of IT management, and ways Apple could improve its products for students.

Biometric technology is already part of the K–12 ecosystem, where administrators are using iris scans and “facial fingerprints” to grant access to buildings and computer labs, track attendance, manage lunch payments, loan library materials and ensure students get on the right buses.

Biotech is also touted as a security measure, particularly for young students who haven’t yet mastered the use of passwords.

“We wanted to use it for younger children to log in to launch pads for their resources,” says Serena E. Sacks, CIO of Fulton County Schools in Georgia, describing the school system’s exploration of facial recognition scans. “This is something that would make it easier for students to access digital resources without using anonymous or generic logins.”

While I love technology that will allow students to login to essential apps and services in an easier manner, I would rather a school deploy a solution like Clever which can use QR codes to log students in instead of leveraging biometrics in K-12.

For parents to accept biosensors in their children’s schools, says Tovah LaDier, executive director of the International Biometrics + Identity Association, they need to understand what the technology is and how it’s being used, and schools can help with that.

I feel like we’ve done the current generation of students a real disservice when it comes to protecting their privacy. Their parents have plastered the internet with pictures from birth without ever stopping to think about how their kids might feel about this in the future. In the same vein, once schools go down the rabbit hole of biometrics in the classroom, students will lose the right to anonymity. Schools will be able to talk about their information security policies all they want, but it’s not a matter of if there are breaches, but a matter of when. Five-year-olds will have their fingerprints loaded into school databases, and have no control over what happens to that data in the future.

“Everybody assumes that education is different than the consumer space because we have a lot of laws on the books,” she says, pointing to legislation such as the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment and Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule. “What we’re going to find is that it’s going to happen on a school level. At some point, we’re going to hit a tipping point of ‘Oh my gosh, this has been happening in schools as well.’”

When we get to a place in society where we are using biometrics with K-12 students who don’t have the right to voice their privacy concerns, we’ve officially jumped the shark when it comes to trying to attain additional security.

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Bradley lives in Chattanooga, TN where he manages Apple devices for a private school. 

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