ACLU of Massachusetts Praises Decision to Cancel Lunch Bytes Program

April 19, 2007 12:00 am

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ACLU Warned School of Privacy Risks for Students; Parents Led “Ban the Scan” Effort

BOSTON – Today the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts praised the decision by the Taunton School Committee to cancel plans for its controversial “Lunch Bytes” program, which would have used fingerprint scans to identify students in the lunch line.

In February, ACLU Staff Attorney Sarah Wunsch wrote Taunton’s Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Arthur Stellar, urging the school district to reconsider its plans. A vigorous local “Ban the Scan” effort by parents also lobbied against the $40,000 program.

“While I appreciate the school system’s desire to speed up the lunch line and to avoid stigma for students receiving free or reduced lunches, there are legitimate and serious privacy concerns created by this system,” Wunsch said.

While the Lunch Bytes system would not have stored students’ actual fingerprints, it translates distinguishing points on the prints into a digital code. Security experts have expressed concern that stolen codes could be misused in new forms of biometric identity theft.

“Used properly, biometric data might help to improve security – but the last thing we should do is teach parents and their children, starting from a young age, to be casual about turning over biometric data for the sake of convenience,” said Wunsch.

“Again and again today, through security breaches such as the massive loss of consumer data at the TJX companies, we see the dangers of identity theft,” said Carol Rose, Executive Director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

“We should carefully examine programs that could further erode people’s privacy, whether that is through fingerprinting, surveillance systems or collections of personal data. The data captured and stored by these systems can be an attractive target for theft and misuse, and once security has been breached, it may be impossible to go back. We should proceed with caution.”

Other school districts, in cities including Boulder, Colorado and Irvine, California, rejected the fingerprint-scanning program after initial consideration as well.

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