An initiative to have some students in San Diego schools log in to their school-issued iPads via facial recognition has been unceremoniously canceled. The Encinitas Union School District terminated the contract in late June.
Initially, the idea was to have a single, easy-to-use authentication process for students using the iPads, since there had been issues with students forgetting their username and password credentials. The School District contracted Virtual Keyring (VKR) to provide a facial recognition system that could securely resolve that issue.
But there quickly emerged a backlash to the project. One point of contention was related to privacy and security: Despite VKR’s use of 256-bit AES encryption, many parents were uneasy about having their kids’ facial biometric data uploaded to the cloud, and were concerned about potential security breaches. This led to the creation of a change.org petition against the project, which attracted 361 signatories.
At the same time, many thought the project was simply too expensive for the problem it was intended to solve; at the time it was estimated at $63,000, though the Encinitas Advocate now pegs the cost at $189,000.
In the end, EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird says the project was canceled because it wasn’t compatible with all the programs students needed to access. Whether or not that was indeed the reason, the cancellation renders moot the change.org petition, and the School District will recover the $25,000 it has already paid to VKR for the trial phase of the project.
At a time when biometric technology is increasingly finding applications in schools – from deployments as innocuous as cafeteria lunch administration to more serious security systems – the EUSD fiasco signals how precarious this area can be, given the privacy and security concerns that often seem to come up with public biometric deployments, and parents’ particularly strong interest in protecting their kids.
Source: Encinitas Advocate
July 16, 2015 – by Alex Perala