- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2005

NORFOLK (AP) — The library card has been replaced by the fingertip at Chesterfield Academy of Math, Science and Technology.

The school’s media center is using a biometrics scanning system, a technology that recognizes people through identifiers such as fingerprints and eye scans. The system was begun this fall.

Schools have used the technology to monitor students getting on buses, to identify parents picking up their children, to take attendance and to pay for meals in the cafeteria. Some grocery stores have started using fingertip-recognition devices in checkout lines.

Sterling A. White Jr., Chesterfield’s principal, said he wanted the technology because his school focuses on it.

“We should have the latest technology that’s available,” he said.

The $995 scanner has a semiconductor that measures the positive and negative impulses that make up the ridges and swirls of a fingerprint, said Bob Engen, president of Educational Biometrics Technology. A computer program then converts the measurements to a set of numbers that is listed in a database with the person’s name.

Students checking out library materials press their fingers to a pad, and the measurements of their fingerprints are matched to the database.

Mr. Engen said the images of the fingerprints aren’t stored and right now no software exists that allows someone to use the database to identify an existing fingerprint.

Attempting to re-create the fingerprints would be like trying to rewrite the page of a novel knowing only the first letter of each word, he said.

“You’re not looking at numbers,” Mr. Engen said. “You’re not looking at things that can be lost, stolen or reproduced.”

Still, privacy watchdog groups caution against allowing such information to be collected, saying it is hard to predict how it could be used in the future.

In Iowa, schools recently were forced to stop using a biometrics system because of a state law that forbids government entities from fingerprinting children.

“That’s another piece of personal-identification information that these young people no longer have control of,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Mr. White sent permission letters announcing the program to the parents of his 580 students. Three parents opted out, he said.

Kenneth Vaughan, 28, said he initially had reservations about allowing his prekindergarten daughter to participate. He changed his mind after learning that images of the prints weren’t stored.

“Technology is going to be shifting toward fingerprints,” said Mr. Vaughan, a Chesterfield math-resource teacher. “They need this exposure now.”

Mr. White hopes also to install a biometrics system in the cafeteria.

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