Throughout the years students have become increasingly concerned over the University of Rhode Island Dining Services’s use of the hand scanners before entering the dining halls. Many students are concerned over the health implications of touching the surfaces and do not think about any privacy violations.
In her class, Judith Swift, the director of the Coastal Institute and professor of communication studies and theatre, commented on the overall loss of privacy and the link to civil liberties.
“I did some research and saw that palm/hand scanner use was ubiquitous,” Swift said. “In a post 9/11 world replete with the use of social media, online credit card use, etc., privacy is an artifact of a past few students even realize is lost.”
According to Director of Dining Services Steven Mello, however, the hand scanners do not recognize fingerprints. Instead they measure the geometric shape of students’ hands.
“It recognizes the shape of the hand,” Mello said. “The formula is kept in a database on your hand and gets more accurate over time as you use it. That’s why if you wear a lot of rings one day, it may not recognize your hand.”
The scanner itself does not have any personal information on students besides having the geometric shape of your hand connected to your ID card. The hand scanners were implemented in 2009 when the meal plans were being changed to allow unlimited access to the dining halls. Allowing three students at a time to scan themselves in worked in favor for everyone, making the line move faster than if one person were checking IDs. The hand scanner also allowed the dining hall staff to not worry about if someone was giving their card to someone else to use.
“If that happened too often, we would use more food and ultimately have to raise the prices of meal plans,” Mello said.
By not having fingerprints remembered by scanning, student privacy is not compromised. Technology is changing, however. Mello said Dining Services is looking for new ways to allow entrance into the dining halls.
“We’re looking at using [students’] phones to validate themselves,” he said. Explaining that students would have an app to get into the dining hall. The app would display an encrypted barcode which students would be able to scan. The barcode itself would change just like the chip readers on credit cards.
“It would be more convenient for students to use because they never go anywhere without their phones,” Mello said. “Students are more likely not to give their phone for someone to use and most are password protected.” Using your phone to allow entrance to the dining hall would further secure students privacy.
Using an app for entrance into the dining halls is currently just an idea that would take a few years to figure out, but either with the hand scanners in place now or a phone app, students privacy is not compromised in this way.