Officials at Maine’s Caribou High School are forging ahead with plans to use biometric scans to track students, with no clear explanation for parents about how they will store, protect, or use the data.
In a letter sent home to parents in late January, Caribou High School Principal Jamie Selfridge wrote the “exciting new development” will help “assist with attendance and tardies entered into PowerSchool, our school’s student management system.”
Selfridge listed four reasons for implementing the Identimetrics system, which will use fingerprint scans of the school’s roughly 460 students to track attendance, with the capability to also manage school lunch accounts.
The transition to biometric tracking will enhance accuracy, streamline processes, improve security, and encourage accountability, according to Selfridge’s letter cited by The Maine Wire.
The new software “adheres to strict privacy guidelines, and it will only be used for attendance purposes within our school environment,” she wrote. “We firmly believe that the software will contribute to improving our school’s operations and ultimately enhance the educational experience for your child.”
The letter did not detail who would have access to student data, whether parents would have the option of opting their children out of the biometric scans, or what the district will do with the data once students leave.
“Some parents, in Caribou and elsewhere, have expressed concerns or skepticism of implementing biometric surveillance programs in schools,” the Wire reports. “Part of the concern is that access to hordes of student data presents an enticing target for hackers.”
And they have plenty of reason to worry. Just months ago, the state admitted the personal data, including social security numbers and medical records, of nearly every resident in Maine was stolen by hackers as part of a broader breach that impacted multiple governments and organizations.
“The State of Maine has determined that this incident has impacted approximately 1.3 million individuals, with the type of data affected differing from person to person,” according to a Nov. 9 press release about the security breach on May 28 and 29.
“Since the onset of the incident, the cybercriminals involved claimed their primary targets were businesses, with a promise to erase data obtained from certain entities, including governments. Despite their assertions that any data obtained from government has been erased, the State is urging individuals to take steps to protect their personal information,” according to a state website dedicated to the “global security incident.”
Schools across the country have also mishandled student data in recent years, exposing information such as students’ letter grades, disability status, and mental health information.
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Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools in October disclosed tens of thousands of sensitive, confidential student records to a parent advocate who has been a critic of the district’s data privacy, The74 reports.
The month prior, files with demographic data on dining service employees, current and former students at Virginia Tech were posted online.
“The university has no reasonable belief that identity theft or fraud will occur,” university officials wrote in a press release cited by Ed Scoop. “However, for notified individuals impacted, it is recommended as a continued security and precautionary measure that you vigilant monitor your personal information for any anomalous or suspicious activities.”
The incident at Virginia Tech came about the same time the University of Minnesota announced the personal information of students, potential students, and employees between 1989 and 2021 was stolen by hackers, according to MPR News.
The breach at the University of Minnesota also prompted a federal lawsuit alleging officials there failed to “establish appropriate security safeguards” for protecting personal data.