Fingerprinting is not the answer

Several years ago, banks started implementing policies requiring a fingerprint to cash a check.

I balked. Rather than cash a check at the bank it was written on, I started depositing all checks into my account at the bank I chose to do business with. I couldn’t see any reason a bank that I did not personally do business with would need my fingerprint.

I still can’t.

Now, Omak schools are implementing a digital fingerprinting system for meal cards. If my daughter attended the school, I would balk at that, too.

School officials say their new meal-card system isn’t a fingerprinting system. They prefer to call it a finger scanning system. That’s a matter of semantics.

The reality is the system being implemented allows the school district to “scan” a child’s fingerprint, convert it to a series of numbers and use the information to identify the youngster.

Let’s be clear here, all digital data — including images — is a series of numbers. The photos on you computer, the text files at work, your fingerprint, etc. In a digital environment, they are all reduced to a series of numbers.

Under Omak’s new system, school officials may only be able see a number. But in the digital world, the data flow can be reversed and the numbers can be viewed as digital fingerprint.

As a parent of a 12-year-old girl, I don’t think its necessary for any school district to collect fingerprints from children.

The school district doesn’t have any malice intended in implementing the new system. And, as I understand it, school employees aren’t saving fingerprints for any special reason. But, once a fingerprint is scanned and saved, the digital fingerprint will forever be engraved in the digital platform for government, law enforcement, computer hackers, etc. to obtain.

That doesn’t sit well with me.

Omak school officials see the new system as a way to alleviate problems with pupils losing their lunch cards or forgetting money at home. But I would argue the responsibility to remember money and maintain lunch cards is the responsibly of students and their parents, not school officials.

As an elementary school student years ago, it didn’t take me long to figure out that if I forgot my lunch money, I wouldn’t get to eat lunch. And it didn’t take long for my parents to realize that when the school called at lunch time, it meant they hadn’t double checked to make sure I had what I needed to eat that day.

While I’m certainly opposed to the unnecessary collection of fingerprints or their digital representation, I guess I’m more opposed to giving parents and pupils a way to shirk responsibilities. If we’re going to expect our children to grow up and be successful contributors to our communities, the least we can do is teach them at an early age that they need to remember something as important as their lunch money or card.

If they can’t remember to do that on their own, can they really be successful in the competitive world that surrounds them today?

The Omak School District deserves kudos for its attempt to resolve the lunch problem. But making it easier to be reliant on a government employee isn’t the answer.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. Email him at


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