IBIA Responds To Florida Student Biometrics Ban

“It is vitally important to separate fact from emotion and misinformation.”

Two days ago biometrics history was made in the United States, as Senate Bill 188 was signed by governor Rick Scott, passing into law. As a result, biometric data cannot be collected from students in the state of Florida, which is now the first state in America to take a legal stand against strong authentication and identity management.

Today, the International Biometrics and Identity Association (IBIA) – an organization who has been actively fighting Bill 188 since its inception – went on record condemning Governor Scott’s decision.

In a press release issued by the IBIA, the organization expresses its deep disappointment that the governor has signed off on the statewide prohibition of the collection of student biometric data in kindergarten to grade 12 schools.

“It is vitally important to separate fact from emotion and misinformation,” reads the media statement.

The ban stems from misguided privacy concerns based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how biometric data is stored. The IBIA stresses that even though a student’s unique characteristics cannot be changed, the actual biometric template, if compromised, is useless information to a hacker, identity thief or worse, stating, “Theft of a biometric template only yields a meaningless string of numbers with no context or value to a hacker.”

“This is an example of what I like to call “techno panic” where people overreact to privacy concerns related to technology,” said Walter Hamilton, vice chairman of the IBIA, in an interview published yesterday on findBIOMETRICS.

He went on to explain the situation that lead to this controversy:

“Last year, the American Legislative Exchange Council published a white paper on biometrics and privacy which said that “there are real benefits to using biometrics.  [Legislators] must use great care to craft privacy policies that guard against the drawbacks without jeopardizing the benefits of new technologies”.   In the case of Florida, the extreme legislative action we are now faced with was prompted by an unfortunate incident in Polk County last year where a school set up a pilot test of iris recognition to ensure that school children got on the right bus.  The problem was that there was no parental notice or informed consent and the superintendent of the school district had not been consulted in advance.  So it was understandable that there was fear and negative reaction.  Rather than ban the technology completely, IBIA urged the Florida legislators to adopt reasonable privacy protective measures such as public and parental notice, written parental consent, limited disclosure, data protection, limited access to biometric data, eventual data destruction and notification to parents in the event of a data breach. These are all reasonable policies that IBIA supports. Unfortunately, the legislators didn’t listen to logic and instead responded to political pressure from groups that were lumping biometrics into a broader issue related to parental rights and government intrusion on student privacy.”

As a result of the new law in Florida, schools will need to revert to old, inefficient and less secure ways to manage students. Biometrics have been used in US schools for nearly 15 years, says the IBIA, helping keep track of attendance, prevent the telf of lunch money and most importantly protect against child abduction.

To get involved with the IBIA, visit the organization’s website. The Association has also released a white paper on the use of biometrics in schools. Stay tuned to findBIOMETRICS as we continue to cover developments in this story.

May 15, 2014 – by Peter B. Counter