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Does Fingerprinting at School Cafeterias Violate Student Privacy?

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Does fingerprinting students at cafeteria lunch counters violate student privacy?

1. Latest Developments

In Spring 2007, school district officials in Taunton, Massachusetts began implementing a voluntary fingerprinting system for students buying cafeteria meals. A similar system is already in place in several other New England school districts.

2. What's All the Fuss About?

Under the system, electronic cafeteria accounts are linked to student fingerprints. When a student goes to the lunch counter, s/he places a finger on an electronic scanning device, which instantly brings up the student's record and charges the cafeteria meal to it.

3. Pros

There are considerable advantages to the fingerprinting system:
  • It reduces the amount of time involved in purchasing a cafeteria meal.
  • It allows students eligible for the free lunch program to participate in the program without other students' knowledge.
  • It alerts cafeteria workers to any food allergies the student might have.
In the Taunton district, there are also some measures that are taken to protect student privacy:
  • The program is voluntary. No student is required to participate.
  • Fingerprints are encoded as a series of numbers before being stored in the database.
  • The database is not accessible to the general public.

4. Cons

The program is not without its disadvantages, however. Among other things:
  • Large fingerprint databases present a remarkable opportunity for identity theft.
  • The program is not truly voluntary because students are not often in a position to make decisions about their own privacy. This is why many web sites are prohibited from selling personal information contributed by users younger than 13.
  • Because there is no mechanism in place to "wipe" the database on a regular basis, it is conceivable that the fingerprints could comprise part of a government record on the student.

5. Where It Stands

Cafeteria fingerprinting systems have already been banned in several states, and Massachusetts legislators are considering a similar policy.
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