Finger scanning in school raises questions from parents

Published: Aug. 20, 2015 at 4:17 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 4, 2015 at 4:36 AM EDT
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NEW ALBANY, IN (WAVE) - New technology in a New Albany elementary school has some parents concerned. The New Albany Floyd County Food and Nutrition Department started using a new finger image scanning identification system as a part of the payment system for school meals.

The finger scan system from Horizon Software uses biometric identification to match a finger scan with a personal identification number. According to the information sent home by the New Albany Floyd County school system, the technology is used to eliminate pin numbers, eliminate misused pin numbers, maintain the privacy of students on subsidized food programs and speed up the amount of time in the lunch line.

Mt. Tabor Elementary parent Mary Ann Halstead said she is concerned over the new system and opted out of the scan for her children.

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"I don't need the school to store my children's fingerprints. I don't like that," Halstead said. 

Halstead signed paperwork so her children could continue to use their PIN for lunch but said her daughter was told she must scan her fingerprint or she wouldn't be allowed to eat. 

"Marissa said, had she not they weren't going to give her lunch," Halstead said. "They're
six and eight (years old.) They don't need their fingerprint stored."

Halstead said she has questions about where the information is being stored and what would happen if the school system were to be hacked. 

New Albany Floyd County School officials refused to go on camera to demonstrate the technology but said they give all parents the option to opt out of the finger scan. The school system sent information home on the system with a form to opt out of the scanning.

Director of Nutrition Services Pam Casey wrote a statement to WAVE 3 News that read: "I want to assure you that the parents at Mt. Tabor Elementary have the option to opt out of the program and students are never denied access to their meal account or meal services. If a parent chooses to not have their child participate the child simply uses their 5-digit PIN number."

Vice President of Marketing at Horizon Software Amy Huff said the device is not a fingerprint device because it does not actually store the fingerprint. Instead, Huff explained the biometric technology uses pressure points of the fingerprint scan to match the points to a series of numbers ensuring the fingerprint is never stored to keep the information secure.

"It's basically storing a template that's a numerical representation of the individual finger print,"
Huff said. "What's stored in the system is simply a series of zeros and ones that based on an algorithm of different points on a student's finger."

Huff explained the system actually ensures more privacy for students because it makes it impossible for a student to steal another student's pin number and use their lunch money.

As for hackers, Huff said because no student fingerprint is stored, no personal information is at risk.

"No one could take what is stored in the system and recreate that student's fingerprint," Huff said.

According to school officials, it costs $716 for the software for the district and $802 for each biometric reader. Currently, Mt. Tabor Elementary is the only school using the biometric reader.

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