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Senate panel OKs ban on student biometric data

Tribune staff


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TALLAHASSEE — A bill preventing Florida’s public schools from collecting and using “biometric” information from its students cleared its second Senate panel on Monday.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee voted 5-1 for the bill, SB 188, over the objection of its own chairman and Pinellas County School District administrators, who said it would slow down lunch lines.

The school district already has invested $300,000 for a computerized biometrics system to process payments for lunches at 83 schools. It uses palm prints to quickly identify kids, giving them more time to eat, officials told lawmakers.

Biometrics uses personal identifying traits like fingerprints and palm prints. Other systems, as seen in many Hollywood movies, scan voices and eye irises for identification.

Parents and bill sponsor Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, have complained that the technology smacks of Big Brotherism.

“There’s no reason to scan a kid,” Hukill said. “Just because government can do this doesn’t mean government should do this.”

The technology caused a brouhaha last year when parents learned Polk County schools were scanning children’s eyes to track comings and goings on school buses but hadn’t first sought parental permission.

Representatives for Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Gov. Rick Scott expressed their support for the bill.

But committee chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, the sole no vote, said he didn’t understand why the state should now ban technology that he said is proving to be money well spent.

If anything, the decision whether to ban biometric systems should be up to each community, he said after the meeting.

“But I feel like kids who have 25 or 30 minutes to eat lunch, when you have hundreds of kids trying to go through a line, it’s the best way to do it,” Evers said.

Evers also didn’t buy into the argument the technology is too invasive.

“Look, I don’t like Big Brother watching me, OK?” he said. “The truth of the matter is this is not a Big Brother situation because all you’ve got is a name and a handprint.”

Hukill’s bill now moves to the Judiciary committee for consideration. A companion bill in the House (HB 195) already passed its first panel unanimously.

The 2014 legislative session begins March 4.

How to sound off

SB 188/HB 195 would prevent Florida’s public schools from collecting and using “biometric” information from its students.

The sponsors are Sen . Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange,, (850) 487-5008, and Rep. Jake Raburn, R- Lithia,, (850) 717-5057.

To find and contact your own senator or representative, visit You’ll also find helpful tips at the Information Center there.

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