By Chloe Gotsis, The Daily Free Press (Boston U.)
BOSTON -- Losing your student ID can be a major hassle. You lose access to your room, your dining plan and cash in the form of convenience points.
But imagine if your ID was permanently ingrained in your DNA, as is happening on college campuses across the continent.
Rather than using IDs to swipe into dorms or dining halls, students at many universities that have installed biometric technology are identified by palm or retina scanners that some students say invoke images of Hollywood spy movies.
College campuses throughout North America have begun using fingerprint readers, iris scanners and hand geometry devices to verify the identity of students and staff members before granting them access to dining halls, limited access laboratories, gymnasiums and residence halls.
"It's being used a number of different ways at a number of different schools," said Brian Cairney, director of business development for Palm Secure at Fujitsu Computers, the company that makes the biometric devices. "It's being used the same way as it is in the commercial world. I think biometric identification is becoming more and more useful. Companies are looking at it as a means to protect people."
Cairney said universities are finding a wide variety of uses for the identification devices.
For example, biometric technology is used today in many universities in Japan to access student records, he said. In a kiosk, students enter their PIN codes. The machine then reads their palms and grants them access to their grades and schedules.
According to Cairney, the use of biometric identification is spreading quickly around the globe and will continue to spread.
"I think it will become more and more frequent as it becomes more user-friendly and more affordable," Cairney said.
Currently, Johnson and Wales University in Denver uses hand geometry readers to allow students into their dormitories, and the University of Georgia uses the technology to confirm the identification of students at their cafeterias. The University of Arizona uses an iris scan identification system to allow access to its biodesign laboratory, Cairney said.
A number of schools are putting hand geometry readers outside the main entrance to dorm rooms, Cairney said, adding that he thinks this is more effective than current, more primitive methods of identification, such as ID cards.
"It is certainly better authentication or verification," Cairney said. "It is possible to grab somebody's fingerprint and create a mold from that. Do I think people on college campuses will go to that trouble ... or feel it is worth the hassle? No. Our product does not allow you to fake it or spoof it. It confirms that the subject it is scanning is alive."
According to Cairney, people should not be concerned about contracting germs from hand scanners, because the machines can scan hands without making contact.
But the biometric device that detects fingerprints has faced some challenges, he said.
"People who wash their hands extensively and people with sweaty palms are having some difficulty [using the devices]," he said.
David May, director of hospitality services at the University of New Hampshire, said he is pleased with the results of the hand geometry identification device the university uses to identify students when they enter the dining halls.
May said the system was installed in the fall of 2003, when the university switched to a new unlimited dining plan, giving students unlimited access to dining halls.
"We felt that the [dining hall workers] could not be accountable for correctly identifying all the students who entered the dining halls," he said.
May said the new system makes sure that only students with the correct dining plans are entering the dining halls.
"There is a keypad and a flat form that has pegs and [the student] sticks their hand down and squeezes the peg confirming that yes, they have the dining plan or no, they do not," May said. "If they do in fact have the dining plan, the light goes green, and it allows the student to enter the turnstile."
May said when the system was first implemented, students had trouble correctly squeezing the pegs, but since then, the system has proved to be a great success.
According to May, dining hall workers at the entrance to the dining halls sanitize the machine every 15 minutes to prevent the spread of illness. There are also hand sanitizers at every station.
But Anne Layden, a junior, said students get sick from the devices all the time because many do not use the hand sanitizer lotion provided at the station.
Layden said the machine looks "futuristic," like something from the movie "Gattaca."
The hand geometry system is easier for students because they do not need to remember to bring their ID cards around campus, she said.
Boston University spokesman Colin Riley said that though biometric identification technology can be very effective, the university has no plans to install such a system anywhere on the Charles River Campus.
"The university certainly recognizes and understands it, and if the situation arises in the future where it is needed, it will be looked at very closely," he said.
Riley said the university has very effective 24-hour security in place on all university dormitories and a strong support system from campus police and Boston Police, so there is no need for a biometric identification system right now.
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