Prison-Yard America

10-17-2011  •  Future of Freedom Foundation/Wendy McElroy 

Since September, a public-school district in Florida has been taking fingerprint scans at the entrance to schools as a way to monitor attendance. The scans are compared against a database of students to detect truants. As in most highly intrusive school policies, parents are thrown a bone of control by allowing them to request an “opt out” for their children. An opted-out student needs to pursue a teacher and go through a special sign-in every day. In terms of time, convenience, and avoidance of stigma, students have a strong incentive to comply quietly.

But the current scanner setup is not efficient enough; the location makes it “difficult to keep track of every student.” And so the district is experimenting with supplementary scanners on the school buses that almost every student uses.

The schools’ superintendent, Sandra Cook, acknowledges that the transition has not been easy. Why not? Have parents complained about the Orwellian violation of children’s privacy? Are they outraged by the state’s assumption that children’s fingerprints are state property unless objections are raised?

TV station WJHG explains, “One of the biggest challenges they’ve faced is where to put the devices on the buses. State safety codes require the aisles to be kept completely clear, so one of the ideas they’ve discussed is to put a laptop on one side of the steering wheel and the finger scan system on the other.” The discussion revolves, not around rights, but around technical issues.

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