By Laurie H. Rogers
Increasingly, however, the government is turning these principles on their head, doggedly working to gain privacy for itself while limiting it or eliminating it for citizens. Agencies are obstructing public records requestors, undermining laws on government transparency and citizen rights, and working collaboratively to dodge accountability for violations of the law and the U.S. Constitution.
Spokane Public Schools has a long history of displaying little respect for the principles of privacy for citizens and transparency for itself. Recently, the school district came up with a brand new way to infringe on citizen privacy while monitoring and controlling which members of the public have access to public buildings.
On Friday, May 16, Spokane lawyer Cheryl Mitchell went to Spokane Public Schools to pick up a disc from a records request. She was told the District had implemented a new policy: visitors must scan their driver’s license and allow their picture to be taken at a kiosk in the lobby before heading to other parts of the building. Her understanding was that this new policy applies to all visitors, not just to records requestors.
- Is it legal for a public agency to scan driver’s licenses and/or take a photo of citizens, simply because they chose to enter a public building?
- Is it legal for a public agency to deny access to a public building if citizens refuse to have their photo taken?
The security of driver’s licenses is being argued now before the state Supreme Court in Lakewood v. Koenig. Attorneys for the Washington State Association of Municipal Attorneys and the Washington Association of Public Records Officers argue that a driver’s license number should be exempt from disclosure because it “exposes private citizens to the risk of harm such as identity theft.” And that’s just the number, never mind the birth date, address and photo.
The identity-theft issue alone should be enough to keep school districts from exposing citizens to that kind of risk (and themselves to subsequent liability). Hackers were wildly successful in breaching the firewalls of Target, eBay, Facebook, the Veterans Administration, the Department of Defense and others, which had invested billions of dollars in securing their databases.
On May 16, Mrs. Mitchell refused to scan her driver’s license. The school district's receptionist did not know what to do and made several calls upstairs. Mrs. Mitchell was finally allowed to use the old "sign in" system and obtain the disc without her driver’s license being scanned. Her photo had already been taken, however.
There obviously was no "opt out” procedure in place on May 16, nor was there any indication that the system might be making an error. An administrator finally agreed to make an exception for Mrs. Mitchell because she refused to comply. For those who did NOT complain on Friday, what happened with their information?
On May 16, Mrs. Mitchell sent an email to the District’s attorney, Paul Clay, to ask about this new policy, and to inquire whether the District is using facial recognition software. Five days later, on May 21, Paul Clay wrote back to say that the District isn’t “using” facial recognition software, and that the initial demand for driver’s licenses was a mistake, due to “inadvertent software settings.” He said the system now will accept a sign-in through the kiosk, or citizens can “utilize the driver’s license scan.”
Paul Clay did not mention the photos. He did not say the District lacks the capability for facial recognition or won’t use it later.
- Does the District have the capability for facial recognition? Will it use that technology later? If it does, will it bother to tell the public?
I have not heard back from the superintendent.
It has long been understood in this country that it’s inappropriate to take a photo in public of someone without that person's permission, or to host a security tape without notifying the public. Mrs. Mitchell said there was no notice posted on May 16 saying that photos were being taken and stored on a server. The District can argue that permission was granted and that notification was given, but it also can be argued that this "permission" was coerced and that the notification given was unclear.
According to Mrs. Mitchell, the instructions on the District's computer say something like, "Place your face close to the computer screen." This is not just taking photos of citizens going about their business.
- Where are the photos going, and how are they to be used?
- How is the driver’s license information to be used? How is it secured?
- How is it “convenient” to hand over private information to a government agency? Has Director Brower scanned her own driver’s license for “convenience”? If so, can the public look at it?
- Will the superintendent, board directors, administrators, or the District’s legal counsel scan their driver’s license for convenience?
- If so, can someone request a copy of these public records? (The District likely would argue that this is personal information and thus exempt from disclosure. If so, it begs the question of why this government agency would collect it.)
- Will anonymous requestors find that their photo was taken when entering the building?
- To be safe, should requestors wear a bag over their head, a ski mask, or a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses? Should they hire agents to pick up the records, who will then have to identify themselves and have their photo taken?
- What about everyone else who is not a lawyer? Will newspaper publishers have to have their photo taken? How about the mayor? Contractors? Newspaper reporters? Legislators? Bill Gates? The governor? County commissioners? The hundreds of attendees of the school district’s annual Community Leaders Breakfast? Or, is this just another "policy" the District will enforce as it chooses?
- Will ALL District employees have to identify themselves at these kiosks? Or, is this system only there to identify private citizens?
- Does this policy apply to citizens attending board meetings, usually held on the same floor as the lobby? How about other meetings held upstairs, such as committee meetings and board work sessions? If so, the policy appears to conflict with the Washington State Open Meetings Act.
- Is the collected data to be part of the “State Longitudinal Data Systems?”
- Will the information be given away or sold by the District? If so, to whom and for which purposes?
- How much money did this new "sign-in" system cost taxpayers? If taxpayers didn’t pay for it, who did and why?
Please note: This information is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (May 2014). "School district scans driver's licenses and takes photos of visitors in new "sign-in" policy." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com