Nationally, many well-intentioned school districts have integrated biometric technology into their systems to increase efficiency from the bus to the lunch line, to ensure student safety, and to decrease financial accounting discrepancies caused by manual systems. In the wake of recent controversy over the collection and use of student biometric data in schools, two bills were proposed in the Florida legislature seeking to ban the collection and use of such data in the state. Both bills were previously discussed here. One of those bills, S.B. 188, passed the Florida Senate on March 26, 2014, with an almost unanimous vote. The other proposed bill is currently pending in the Florida House of Representatives.

While Florida is certainly not the first state to experience a public backlash as a result of biometric data collection in schools, it is among the first to take such direct action to circumscribe the collection of such data. At a time when the collection and use of biometric data is generally on the rise, there is room for speculation that bans like that embodied in S.B. 188 are a harbinger of more prohibitive measures to come.

The detailed legislation, as it currently reads, expressly prohibits schools from collecting, among other information, students’ biometric data. The bill defines “biometric information” as “information collected from the electronic measurement or evaluation of any physical or behavioral characteristics that are attributable to a single person, including fingerprint characteristics, and any other physical characteristics used for the purpose of electronically identifying that person with a high degree of certainty.” The bill lists fingerprint or hand scans, retina or iris scans, voice prints, and facial geometry scans as examples of prohibited biometric information.

Notably, S.B. 188 allows schools that have already implemented and used palm scanning systems to identify students and debit their accounts for school meals to continue to do so until the close of the 2015 school year. The bill as passed also amends prior legislation that designated Florida students’ social security numbers as their school identification numbers. The amended statute now calls for the establishment of a process for assigning Florida student identification numbers in lieu of using students’ social security numbers. Perhaps most interestingly, S.B. 188 creates a cause of action for aggrieved parents whose school officials refuse to comply with the new law that includes a right to recover attorney fees and costs.

The main concern that seems to underpin S.B. 188 is the potential use of biometric data to perpetrate acts of identity theft using physiological or behavioral markers that a victim cannot change. However, current biometrics systems are most often used to (successfully) increase the security of personal information, and do so without actually saving the information collected. There are also as yet no reported cases of identity theft perpetrated using physiological markers like retina scans and fingerprints. Therefore, only time will tell whether S.B. 188 will end up a remedy without a corresponding wrong.

Angelica T. Boutwell