Library officials in this suburb west of Chicago have come up with a high-tech solution for keeping unauthorized visitors from using their computers: fingerprint scans.
The scanners to be installed on 130 library computers this summer will verify the identity of computer users.
Library officials said they wanted to tighten computer access because many people borrow library cards and pass codes from friends or family to log on. The technology also will help the library implement a new policy that allows parents to put filters on their children’s’ accounts, officials said.
But privacy advocates have criticized the plan, which would make Naperville only the second library system in the nation to use fingerprint-scanning technology, according to the American Library Association.
“We take people’s fingerprints because we think they might be guilty of something, not because they want to use the library,” said Ed Yohnka, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union in Illinois.
While the library insists the fingerprint data will be kept confidential, Yohnka warns the technology will create a database of personal information that could be used in unintended ways.
Library records have been the focus of a privacy debate ever since Congress passed the Patriot Act shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. A provision of the law authorizes federal officials to obtain “tangible items” like credit card receipts and library records as part of foreign intelligence or international terrorism investigations.
The Justice Department has repeatedly said the government has never asked for anyone’s library records.
Naperville library officials said the technology cannot be used to reconstruct a person’s actual fingerprint. The scanners, made by Naperville-based U.S. Biometrics Corp., use an algorithm to convert 15 or more specific points into a unique numeric sequence.
“Right now we give you a library card with a bar code attached to it. This is just a bar code, but it’s built in,” said Mark West, the library’s deputy director.
West said the numeric data cannot be cross-referenced with fingerprint databases kept by the FBI or state police.