A California school district is testing iris scanning devices on three buses this fall. The system aims to ensure that no students are accidentally left behind on the bus. The transportation agency was already planning the pilot program in order to keep track of students on buses. Then concern about bus riders became heightened in September, when a special needs student died of unknown causes after being accidentally left on a school bus.
When children board the bus, their eyes are scanned by a device made by a company called Iritrak. The system looks like a pair of binoculars attached to a tablet by a cord. Inside the “binoculars,” cameras use near-infrared light to scan past the eye and detect the unique texture of the iris. The system will then match the iris’ unique profile against a database in order to identify the student. The bus driver will then get a notification of whether or not the student is authorized to board the bus at that stop, the school gets a notification that the student has boarded the bus, and parents can also remotely track their student’s bus in real time via an app.
Biometrics identification such as iris scanning is already used in several schools across the country. This type of system relies on the unique biological characteristics of individuals to verify identity for secure access to electronic systems. A familiar example is using fingerprint scanning to unlock an iPhone. Iris or fingerprint scanners have been used to replace student ID or meal cards at schools in Colorado, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, and West Virginia. Iris scanning, just like any other biometric identifier, leads to some concerns about privacy. Some parents are worried that if the iris data is linked personal information then there is a possibility of identity theft and government tracking. Iritrak has said the data could not be stolen because it is encrypted. Other people have said that the problem of tracking bus riders could be easily solved with nontechnical solutions, such as requiring bus drivers to walk to the back of the bus to check for students at the end of each shift.
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