Print Sodexo violates students’ privacy
Written by Greg Ruland   
Wednesday, 18 August 2010 08:01

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District’s new food service contractor violated state law when it collected fingerprints from students Monday, Aug. 16.

Arizona law forbids schools from collecting “biometric information,” including finger scans, without proper advance notice and written consent from parents.

Sodexo Food Service, which instituted a breakfast and lunch program at COCSD starting Aug. 3, gave parents notice Friday, Aug. 13, it planned to implement a computerized system for buying meals, known as Touch and Go, starting Aug. 16.

To implement the system, Sodexo began scanning students’ right index fingers Aug. 16, but did not provide notice of its intention to do so 30 days in advance as required by state law. An unidentified number of Cottonwood Middle School students were scanned.

The letter sent to parents Aug. 13 also failed to include a notice in large, boldface, capital letters that the finger scans could not be collected without written consent from parents, also required by state law.

A proper notice will be sent out 30 days in advance of the next date for finger scanning, Superintendent Barbara U’ren said.Alerted to the situation Monday, Sodexo stopped taking finger scans and deleted all of the scanned information collected. A proper notice will be sent out 30 days in advance of the next date for finger scanning, Superintendent Barbara U’ren said.

“Lunch lines will be a little bit slower for the next 30 days, but that’s OK because we want to make sure we do this right,” U’Ren said. “We greatly apologize for any concerns this might have raised for our parents.”

Use of Touch and Go will be optional, Food Services Manager Shawn M. Stevenson wrote in his Aug. 13 letter to parents.

The system gives students the option of using a finger scan to identify his or her lunch identification number.

“The students will have accounts that will be utilized to deposit funds for meals and/or a la carte purchases,” Stevenson wrote.

Touch and Go also allows parents to link restrictions on diet and use of funds to the students’ identification numbers and tracks how students spend funds on deposit with Sodexo, Stevenson wrote.

“With this system you may request to view your child’s account history at any time by contacting the food service office,” Stevenson wrote.

Stevenson told parents the system is secure and all data collected is kept confidential.

“It is important to understand that the system does not store an image or photo of the student’s fingerprint,” Stevenson wrote. “The scanner examines a few points of a fingerprint and generates unique numbers based on those points to create a secure key called a ‘string.’”

The string is retained for reference back to the student, but the numbers cannot be converted into an actual fingerprint image, according to Stevenson.