September 10, 2007 | By Hugh D'Andrade

Victory Against School Biometrics in Illinois

Joy Robinson-Van Gilder is a small-town mom from Earlville, Illinois (population 1,778) who began a one-woman campaign to fight the use of biometrics in the schools and won.

In August of 2005, the public school in Earlville installed biometric equipment, allowing the school to track students by scanning their fingerprints. Use of the scans for school lunch was apparently mandatory. When Robinson-Van Gilder objected, she was told: "If they don't scan, they don't eat."

Robinson-Van Gilder and her husband Chris were outraged. Ignoring ridicule from neighbors, they brought their concerns to the administration, the school board, the local paper, and then began lobbying the Illinois state legislature. Eventually, they managed to bring some national media attention to the issue. Christian Broadcasting Network covered the story, as did EFF's Deeplinks.

"What if someone uses it to open an account for my son? They say it's foolproof. Well, nothing is foolproof," Robinson-Van Gilder told the Chicago Tribune (login required).

In February, 2007, SB 1702 was introduced by State Senator Kim Lightford, requiring school districts to have a policy before collecting any biometric information from students, prohibiting the sale or disclosure of biometric information, and requiring parental consent before any children are scanned. On August 1st, Governor Rod Blagojevich signed the bill into law.

Meanwhile, the use of biometric technologies in schools around the country continues to spread. Pippa King's blog "Biometrics In Schools" is doing a great job of covering the issue, and the uproar in the UK is chronicled by "Leave Them Kids Alone." We?re going to need many more Joy Robinson-Van Gilders to turn it around.


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