The following opinion is presented on-line for informational use only and does not replace the official version. (Mich Dept of Attorney General Web Site - www.ag.state.mi.us)
STATE OF MICHIGAN
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM, ATTORNEY GENERAL
CHILDREN AND MINORS:
SCHOOLS AND SCHOOL DISTRICTS:
Use by school of electronic finger imaging to identify child for school purposes
The Child Identification and Protection Act prohibits a school district from using electronic fingerprinting technology to identify a child for school-related purposes.
Opinion No. 7069
December 12, 2000
Honorable Ken Sikkema
Lansing, MI 48913
You have asked whether the Child Identification and Protection Act prohibits a school district from using electronic fingerprinting technology to identify a child for school-related purposes.
Information supplied with your request indicates that several school districts have expressed an interest in purchasing and using a new software product that records and stores an electronic image of a child's fingerprint. This electronic imaging system, sometimes called finger scan technology, would replace the current use of plastic debit cards by children purchasing food in school cafeterias. The process initially requires a template image be taken of each child's fingerprint and then stored in the system. Thereafter, each time a child purchases food, the child would be identified by placing his or her finger on an electronic image pad to compare the fingerprint to the fingerprint image on the stored template.
The Child Identification and Protection Act (Act), 1985 PA 176, MCL 722.771 et seq; MSA 25.248(50) et seq, is "AN ACT to safeguard the privacy of children by regulating the fingerprinting of children." With some limited exceptions not related to your question, the Act provides that "a governmental unit shall not fingerprint a child." Section 3. The Act defines "[c]hild" to be a person under 17 years of age and "[g]overnmental unit" to include any school district or its representative. Section 2(a) and (b).
The Act, however, does not define the term fingerprint. This term has been defined elsewhere as "[t]he distinctive pattern of lines on human fingertips, often used as a method of identification in criminal cases." Black's Law Dictionary (6th ed. 2000). Where statutory terms are not defined, it is customary to consult dictionary definitions. People v Lee, 447 Mich 552, 558; 526 NW2d 882 (1994). The image of one's finger is unique to each person and thus is used as a method of identification.
Although the Act does not explicitly address electronic fingerprint imaging technology, it is clear that it was enacted to generally prohibit schools and other governmental units from fingerprinting a child. The Act also lists the limited situations in which a child may be fingerprinted. Specifically, the Act prohibits fingerprinting of children except in the following circumstances: (a) if authorized by a parent or guardian in case a child becomes a runaway or is missing; (b) if the child is arrested; (c) if the fingerprinting is required by court order; or (d) with the parent's or guardian's permission to aid in a specific criminal investigation. Section 4. The Act contains no exception permitting a school to fingerprint a child for strictly school-related purposes.
Each application of the finger imaging system described in your letter would result in multiple violations of the Act: First when the child's fingerprint is initially taken for storage in the system and thereafter each time a child places his or her finger on the electronic image pad to compare it with the stored print.
It is my opinion, therefore, that the Child Identification and Protection Act prohibits a school district from using electronic fingerprinting technology to identify a child for school-related purposes.
The Legislature is, of course, free to amend this statute to authorize school districts to fingerprint children for school purposes.
JENNIFER M. GRANHOLM