Facial Recognition ‘Biometrics’ Coming to California School District

Facial Recognition Software - AP
AP Photo/Chris O'Meara

A California school district is about to launch a first-of-its-kind facial recognition pilot program for K-6 aged children. Select San Diego area elementary school children will log into their iPads through a biometric system that is being pitched as a time saver because youngsters will not have to learn or remember manual online passwords anymore.

On March 15, the Encinitas Union School District (EUSD) board voted 4-0 to approve the biometrics program from Salt Lake City-based Virtual Keyring (VKR). The district runs nine elementary schools with an enrollment just under 5,400 pupils. Every student has an iPad because of a program the district launched in 2012 at a price tag of $2.7 million, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

At the board meeting, district Superintendent Tim Baird pushed this “single sign in” technology as something that “gets us into that ‘walk through one door’ and you’re into everything.”

Some parents are worried by the sound of that. Baird insisted, however, that this user-friendly technology is only meant to gain access to the system and was not going to track children, even though he admitted to the Encinitas Advocate that Virtual Keyring could be perceived as “Big Brother-ish.”

It is a cloud-based password management system that claims to take away the worry of student data being hijacked because it operates off of a 256 bit AES encryption bit, the US Government standard. Virtual Keyring boasts that the technology is more secure than any password and since information isn’t stored on the physical device, it cannot be stolen. The company also provides cyber-security to banks, law firms and government agencies. The Utah Highway Patrol is a client.

The way it works is to “authenticate students on their school-issued iPads with biometrics” and not just through a keyed-in password, according to the Encinitas Advocate.

Student images cannot be stored or shared. Pictures would be encrypted as algorithms, so they could not be retrieved as images, noted Planet Biometrics. However, Virtual Keyring explains that the system works by creating a “300 point 3D map of each registered user,” which means they take multiple photographs, compares them with others encrypted on file and verifies the registered user on the iPAD or other device.

Interestingly, if the continuous real-time scanner does not recognize the face in front of it, the user it sees will be booted out of the system.

The impetus for bringing Virtual Keyring into EUSD was because teachers were claiming they were losing too much instructional time over kids having to “go through the process of actually logging into their various digital tools,” Baird told the Encinitas Advocate.

Virtual Keyring eliminates that pesky problem and eradicates another – having to remember too many passwords.

The biometric program was funded through Proposition P, a $39 million technology and facility upgrades school bond passed in 2010 that is also being used to upgrade campus wi-fi and install solar panels on school roofs. The district will only pay $25,000 of a $63,000 one-year contract up front initially, according to the Encinitas Advocate. 

EUSD parent Bruce Stirling was at the board meeting. Via email, he told Breitbart Texas “I do not think that saving 15 seconds logging in justifies the expense of $63,000 of taxpayer money. I do not think it justifies violating our privacy. Facial recognition is like a fingerprint and I, as a parent, make these decisions. Not Tim Baird.”

Stirling also said that Baird dismissed parental concerns over privacy concerns. “We aren’t spying on your children. Imagine the time it will save logging on,” Baird said to district taxpayers, according to Stirling.

Jen Hamler, a parent with two children in EUSD, was not too happy about the district’s virtual purchase either. By email, she told Breitbart Texas, “The contract with Virtual Keyring, LLC, for facial recognition is completely frivolous–paying $63,000 to bypass a password is wasteful and a reckless use of tax dollars. Let’s put the money back in the classroom to lower class size and hire math specialists to help our teachers.”

The news of facial recognition coming to Encinitas lit up the California Facebook Stop Common Core pages. On Californians Against Common Core one dad wrote, “The parents will have no idea what the kids are doing on the iPads because the iPad will log the parents out with the real time monitoring.”

Another parent posted a link to a 2013 uproar over invasion of privacy concerns when a Florida school district scanned student’s eyes.

Stop Common Core in California admins asked, “How does facial recognition work is they keep no data on file? They state an encrypted image is on file. Is that not data?”

One parent just called the whole thing creepy. It is no surprise that parents are leery in an information collection age where disconcerting 21st Century technology taps into futuristic fears of Minority Report-style facial recognition and data-tracking.

Closer to reality, though, Virtual Keyring brings to mind actual dystopian realistic non-fiction from the US Department of Education (USDE) in a document called Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.

This 2013 anthem from the Office of Educational Technology provided a Huxley-esque look into the education reformer mindset, one that imagines measuring those not so easy to define “non-cognitive” qualities a child may possess from which these education bureaucrats picked predictors of future success.

Perhaps, page 44 of the report made the biggest stir with photographs of mad science monitoring tools to study children’s facial expressions and galvanic skin, all “affective sensors used while a student is engaged” in an online tutoring system. The sensors shown were facial expression camera, posture analysis seat, pressure mouse, and a wireless skin conductance sensor.

“There are many parents unhappy about the district foisting that tech on our kids in the first place. L.A. spent over $2B just on iPads. Steve Jobs wouldn’t let his own kids use them until they were teens. But now we see the next phase of this strategy involving technology for data gathering. Our board was recently chastised for lax security allowing kids to access porn,” he added.

In February, the district had a filter problem where school-issued iPads when taken off campus were able to download quite a lot of inappropriate X-rated content, the Union-Tribune also reported. EUSD spent an estimated $25,000 to $30,000 to patch the porn leak, according to David Delacalzada, Director of Information Technology. He was responsible for bringing Virtual Keyring into EUSD.

The pilot group will include selected EUSD students, teachers and administrators over a period of two weeks to up to two months, according to Encinitas Advocate. They added that if deemed a success, Virtual Keyring will officially launch at one school with the goal of moving district-wide. School officials told the local newspaper that the facial recognition wouldn’t be mandatory. EUSD students could still access the internet with a user name and password over the Virtual Keyring system.

EUSD has a featured video on the Virtual Keyring site. Stirling told Breitbart Texas that it was up and running “even before the vote” was taken at the school board meeting.

Follow Merrill Hope on Twitter @OutOfTheBoxMom.


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