Bill from Carroll senator would ban collection of students' biometric data

Getty proposal follows privacy concern from some parents over palm scanners

  • A student at Robert Moton Elementary School in Westminster uses a palm scanner for a purchase in the school cafeteria last fall. Carroll County Public Schools announced it would halt the use of the scanners after some parents objected. A bill that would ban the collection of any "biometric data" on students is scheduled for a hearing in Annapolis on Wednesday, March 13.
A student at Robert Moton Elementary School in Westminster… (Barbara Haddock Taylor…)
March 12, 2013|By Jim Joyner, The Baltimore Sun

A bill that would ban gathering of biometric data from school children in Maryland — including information culled from the palm scanners that drew protest in Carroll County last year — is slated for a hearing Wednesday in Annapolis.

Senate Bill 855, proposed by State Sen. Joseph M. Getty, a Republican who represents part of Carroll and Baltimore counties, would prohibit public school boards from collecting biometric information, defined as "fingerprint, vocal and facial characteristics; and any other physical characteristics used for the purpose of electronically identifying that individual with a high degree of certainty."

The bill is scheduled for a 1 p.m. hearing before the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee.

Earlier this school year, Carroll County Public Schools had biometric scanners in place in about 10 school cafeterias, where they were used to help expedite the process of paying for school meals. Officials said the scanners would be more efficient than processing cash transactions or using a PIN keypad system.

But officials fielded complaints from some parents who felt the scanners were an invasion of privacy.

Schools Superintendent Stephen Guthrie said he felt the system was secure, but in December announced he would halt it and seek an alternative.

On Tuesday, Carroll County officials said Board of County Commissioners member Robin Frazier, a Taneytown Republican, planned to attend the Annapolis hearing to testify in favor of Getty's measure.

Background data submitted with the bill notes that one other school system in the state, in Cecil County, uses a finger scanner as well as a PIN keypad system for food services. If Getty's measured passes, Cecil could still use PINs and keypads, but would have to stop using finger scanners, according to the bill's policy statement.

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