Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Biometrics in middleschools, huh?

September is fast approaching. Hurray, says those of use that have children of school age. A huzzah for the teachers who for the next 9 months will act as sitters for 10 hours a day, 5 days a week. Thank you for the reprieve, we appreciate it, really we do.

But enough of all that, what's all this about biometrics?

Let me first set the story up for you. Sometime late in the school year, my kids brought home a notice to parents explaining that because of budget shortfalls, the school board was cutting bus service for those students living within a 1.3 km radius of the school. Ouch, we live within that radius, ugh, our children are 6 and 10, fuck, we have to figure out how/who are we going to walk these guys back and forth to school 5 days a week. Needless to say we and some of the other parents in and around that magic 1.3 km radius are kinda cheesed at the whole idea. Classy how they slipped the notice in late in the school year, allowing for basically no debate, or discussion. What can we do? A few brave parents did their best to fight it, they formed a mini grassroots movement. There were lawn signs made, the odd heated discussion at wading pools, or while drinking iced tea in kitchens. No one listened, there aren't enough of us to make a stink. Sad really.

The summer rolled on as it does. We as parents had finally come to terms with the fact that we had to trudge our children up and down the hill, come sun, rain, sleet, or snow. OK, we might get the odd snow day off. The battle was lost, bureaucracy wins again, just think of the exercise.

The BIOMETRICS, ye Gods man!

Right, right, biometrics. So ya, my partner was at the pool (where most of the summer's great discussions take place) and she was talking to another parent. That parent brought up the fact that all the other cuts that the school board had purposed had been rescinded except of course for our bus route... did we make too much of a stink? Are we on their naughty list? I dunno? But wait, here is where the biometrics comes in. After listing off all the things the school decided to again fund (aside from our bus route, the bastards!) this parent mentioned that the school board was spending a bunch of new money completing a new middle school, and get this, the cafeteria at this school will be fitted with a biometric thumbprint system. Huh? Wait a minute, what, why? My inner Orwell just about putzed. (link)

The idea, as far as I can tell, and I apologize for the rather weak news link provided, is to have a moneyless, and therefore safer, more efficient cafeteria. So fingerprinting and systematizing kids is cool, but offering them basic transportation back and forth to school is not? Oh, I am sure that the fine folks at the school board will all but guarantee that there is nothing at all sinister about the idea of thumbprinting each and every student in their brand new multi-million dollar school. It's the future, you sir look liberal minded, what then is your problem? My problem is this, it's FUCKING BIOMETRICS, these kids aren't criminals, they are going to school, not trying to go through customs. I do not want my kids prints on file as soon as they enter grade 6. If the school asks, I will refuse, if they refuse my money in their fancy smancy cafeteria of the future, my kids will brown bag it. Yes, I would rather hear them complain, then risk adding them to the biometric list of some unknown lunch lady new world order.


  1. It helps to know what biometric readers actually do. They do store complex algorithms of fingerprints, but almost always do not store the fingerprints themselves.

    I've had a biometrics reader at my office for three years, and once our IT guys did a lunch & learn (yes, I know my teenage past self would loathe his future incarnation for typing 'our IT guys' and 'lunch & learn'), it allayed any worries about privacy I had (which were pretty much the same as yours).

    Concerns would be different in schools, though, since they reduce kids stealing money from other kids, but could increase incidents of food getting stolen/spoiled after purchase. Also, I know things like Silly Putty and scotch tape can capture and replicate a fingerprint on our scanners, but I'm pretty much the only one in the office who might think of pranking someone by getting their prints. And since it smacks of effort for a limited amount of humour (if any), I won't. But kids may use methods like these for fun, for fraud, or to pull one over on the teachers/Lunchlady Dorises out there (I know my teenage past self would have spent hours thinking of ways to beat the system).

    Sucks, though, that the school board cuts bus service, but probably spends a lot introducing biometric readers, which may have limited payoff given extra staff needed on call to deal with them going offline, breaking down, kids jamming Silly Putty on them, etc. My guess is technology for technology's sake, rather than a big realization that a cash payments are simply too costly and time consuming.

  2. Thank you for your comment. I agree with much, if not all of what you wrote.

    Excuse me while I crumple up my tin foil hat, and peek my head from the hole I had it stuck in. I know that there really isn't a conspiracy to codify our tweens into some sinister thumb-powered nanny state.

    What angers me, is not, the school board's lack of concern for privacy (a real concern or not) but their willingness to embrace technology for the sake of technology. A biometric reader in a middle school cafeteria seems a ridiculous expense, especially considering that the same school board claims poverty and can't afford some basic bus service for some of its students.

    All and all a fun story to write. Thanks again for reading and commenting.

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