The Polk County school district has sparked some outrage after scanning the irises of its students – without the consent of parents or the students themselves.
After installing eye-scanning cameras on school busses at three locations including an elementary, middle and high school, Polk Country schools – in partnership with Stanley Convergent Security Solutions – decided to test its EyeSwipe-Nano. The technology was installed as part of a pilot security program, but a vast majority of parents didn’t learn about the iris capture until their children informed them at home.
Director of support services for Polk County Schools, Rob Davis, claims the program is designed to track student movement as they board and exit buses, claiming that school officials could inform parents via text message of their children’s’ exact location.
While the intention seems sincere the timeline of events just doesn’t add up.
It has been reported that parents received a letter on May 24 announcing the EyeSwipe-Nano program, stipulating specifically that students and families not interested in participating in the iris program would need to get permission from the principal to opt out. The letter, however, revealed a past-due launch date of May 20. Moreover, by the time many families had received the letter in the mail, 17 school busses had already begun iris scans of its student riders.
Following a flood of calls from angry parents, the school district attempted to pump the brakes and cover its tracks, issuing an apology and putting the program on hold. On the corporate side, Stanley Security Solutions claims to have destroyed all student iris scans obtained prior to proper parental consent.
The trade-off with any security initiative is the privacy of the participating individuals. In the case of the Polk county school district, however, the failure to properly inform parents – some with children as young as 6 years old – raises serious privacy concerns.
The unfortunate truth for those outside the industry is that there are serious concerns that have yet to be fully answered.
There has been no word from either school officials or Stanley Security Solutions as to how long the students’ iris scans were to be stored, how the data was to be secured and most importantly, what access to the iris scans, if any, was granted to third parties.
Despite the embarrassing mix up, Davis still vehemently supports the iris program and hopes that the initiative will be renewed – with the full disclosure of students and parents – for the start of the next school year.