A public high school in Maine is among the first in the state to adopt biometric scanning technology to track student attendance.
Caribou High School in Aroostook County (RSU 39) has contracted with IdentiMetrics to implement a system that scans students’ fingerprints, stores the data, and creates a tracking system so that administrators can have an easier time keeping track of the roughly 460 students.
According to a letter from school Principal Jamie Selfridge, the new biometric surveillance technology will be deployed for students this year.
“Starting next trimester, we will be introducing Identimetrics to assist with attendance and tardies entries into PowerSchool, our school’s student management system,” Selfridge wrote in a Jan. 24 letter to parents.
“[P]lease be assured that the new software adheres to strict privacy guidelines, and it will only be used for attendance purposes within our school environment,” Selfridge said.
Selfridge did not say what security protocols, if any, RSU 39 may be adopting in order to safeguard students’ biometric data.
IdentiMetrics’ website touts the product as a money-saving product for schools, claiming that the program can save districts thousands of dollars a year by saving school lunch programs the hassle of manually contacting parents about “problem student accounts.”
Although Selfridge didn’t say whether students will use the program to pay for the school lunches, this function does appear to be one of the primary uses for the fingerprint-scanning technology.
According to the website, increasing the number of students who scan their fingerprints in the lunch line can boost the reimbursements a district receives for school food service program enrollment.
Some parents, in Caribou and elsewhere, have expressed concerns or skepticism of implementing biometric surveillance programs in schools. Part of the concern is that access to hordes of student data presents an enticing target for hackers.
In Nov., the Mills Administration admitted that a breach of Maine.gov systems nearly six months earlier resulted in a Russian hacking group stealing information on nearly every Maine resident, including Maine Department of Education data on students.
It’s not clear from Selfridge’s letter whether the Maine DOE, the company behind IdentiMetrics, or other corporate third parties would have access to students’ biometric data.
It’s also not clear whether parents and students will have the option to opt out of having their biometric data collected and stored by the government-run school.
Nor is it clear whether, when, and how data kept on students would be destroyed after graduation.