TALLAHASSEE — A bill that would ban Florida’s public schools from collecting students’ “biometric” information, including iris patterns and palm scans, hit a stumbling block Tuesday in its last Senate panel.
Committee chair Tom Lee, R-Brandon, pulled the bill (SB 188) after a group of senators, led by Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala, wanted to create an “opt-in” process for parents who are OK with the practice.
But bill sponsor Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, wasn’t ready to capitulate.
“What does this mean in terms of our children?” she told the panel. “Why do we need it?”
Pinellas County school officials have said they scan the palms of children to authorize cash withdrawals from pre-paid accounts.
That speeds along lunch lines, giving students more time to eat, they said. It also prevents cheaters from using others’ ID cards to get lunch, reducing fraud.
Biometric technology caused an uproar last year when Polk County parents learned their school system had been scanning children’s eyes to track comings and goings on school buses but hadn’t first sought parental permission.
Hukill said she was concerned students’ biometric information could somehow be leaked, contributing to identity theft.
She alluded to the recent data breaches at the Target and Neiman Marcus retail chains, resulting in the release of millions of credit card numbers.
“Once you collect this information, to think it’s then secure is somewhat cavalier,” she said.
Hukill, however, couldn’t refer to an incident where a breach of student biometric information has ever happened in Florida.
Barbara Dalesandro, food service technology coordinator for Pinellas County schools, said students’ information is kept on secure servers in a locked room in the district’s administration building. Those servers do not store social security numbers, she said.
“We’ve been doing this for many years,” Dalesandro said. Hukill’s objections are “a first. We’ve never had a problem.”
Despite assurances, some lawmakers still sounded uncomfortable with the technology.
“It’s amazing we’ve even come to these types of conversations, to be quite honest,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, the Senate’s president-designate for 2014-16.
The Judiciary committee is the last panel the bill must clear before heading to the Senate floor. It had not been rescheduled as of later Tuesday afternoon.
How to sound off
SB 188/HB 195 would prevent Florida’s public schools from collecting and using “biometric” information from its students.
To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit www.leg.state.fl.us. You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.