Fingerprinting faculty at City Colleges of Chicago



Our Dignity and Our Rights Have No Price

On August 13, 2013 the employees of the City Colleges of Chicago (CCC) received an email notifying them that beginning in the fall all would have to submit to a daily biometric scanning system to verify their attendance. Some of us were able to verify at our work locations the installation of fingerprint-scanning machines. We are appalled at this arbitrary measure and ask for public support in our campaign to eliminate such practices at the CCC.

None of the unions nor the ordinary employees were consulted about a process that would profoundly affect their privacy. We were just told that we were on a schedule to be trained in the use of this new system. There was no advance information about this system, no description of its cost, no justification for this drastic change. Everything we have learned along the way had to be extracted from the administration.

After questions presented to the administration by the adjunct professors’ union (CCCLOC) and to the Board of Trustees of the CCC by the chapter chair of Harold Washington College, representing faculty, professionals and security guards (AFT Local 1600), and an open letter submitted to the administration by the Faculty Council of Harold Washington College, the administration finally provided some information.

Throughout this process the justifications for this arbitrary measure have shifted. Now, the weightiest justification revolves around expense savings. It is a sad state of affairs that the pursuit of savings is placed ahead of the rights and privacy of the employees that make the CCC system work. This is not an inexpensive system, with an initial cash outlay of over $2 million, in addition to the annual operating expenses. The projected savings of this privacy hijacking are waved as enough justification to coerce us into giving the administration personal information from our bodies. Is there any limit beyond which they are not willing to go to “save” at our expense?

Vice Chancellors Laurent Pernot’s and Stephanie Tomino’s responses to our questions are outstanding in the degree of dismissal of our concerns. One has to wonder if these vice chancellors disregard the scientific literacy of our faculty and staff when they claim that the scheduled fingerprint collection system does not collect the equivalent of a fingerprint identifier and that somehow it is safely stored because it is saved as encrypted binary data. Modern, digital fingerprinting processes never compare the full fingerprints but a limited number of fingerprint “characteristics,” somewhere between 7 and 15 of them. That is precisely what this system will do. Any data that are stored electronically, are stored in binary form, as in our jump-drives, hard disks and cell phones. That is widespread knowledge, and it neither provides any guarantees for the confidentiality of body characteristics, nor does the encryption. Most modern electronic data transfer protocols are protected by encryption, yet that does not guarantee the theft of this information, as the recent theft of encrypted computers at Park Ridge’s Lutheran Hospital forced Advocate Healthcare to offer free anti-identity theft services to all its patients in the Chicagoland area.

Another justification offered to extract personal information from our bodies is that the administration will be able to catch employees who commit fraud with their payroll attendance reports—or in the jargon, “time theft.” One would be excused to assume that there must be a “time-theft” epidemic at the CCC. However, Vice Chancellor Pernot informed us that the Inspector General reports 12 such incidents. The Vice Chancellor never informed us about the time frame of these time thefts. He never indicated who stole the time or if they were found guilty. For the sake of argument let’s assume that it happened over the course of one year. With approximately 6,000 employees at the CCC, this would amount to about 0.2 % per year! This is far from an overarching malaise that deserves to have more than $2 million thrown at it.

It is an irony that the week that the CCC administration revealed its plans for our fingerprinting, a court in New York found that the “Stop-and-Frisk” practice of the NYC police department was unconstitutional because it deliberately targeted African Americans and Latinos. It said that the racial profiling used by the NYPD amounted to the assumption that every Black and Latino young man was a potential criminal. That is similar to what the planned fingerprinting attendance system assumes of each one of us: That we are potential “time thieves” despite the fact that the overwhelming numbers prove otherwise.

Our students, who come in large numbers from communities of color, are understandably anxious about their professors and the staff that supports them being compelled to submit to such an overreaching system. Anyone reading the Chicago newspapers for the past decade is aware of how the Latino and African American communities have been unfairly treated by the Chicago criminal justice system. And now they are concerned that their professors and other CCC employees will be subjected on a daily basis to a fingerprinting process that eerily evokes the processing of an arrestee. They ask themselves if they will be next. And this is not far fetched for similar systems have been attempted in other states (e.g., Florida) to track their class attendance.

The CCC administration conveniently confuses the right to privacy afforded by the constitution of the U.S. with the expectation that the fingerprint information is not divulged or shared with other parties. As bad as that would be, this is not the main issue. The privacy guarantees afforded by the constitution refer to the guarantees against unwarranted searches without probable cause, and the inviolability of our bodies. This is the privacy the CCC administration wants to breach, and it says it wants to do it because things will become cheaper for them.

We say No: Our dignity and our rights have no price. We seek the support of our students, their families, and every citizen of Illinois who understands the severity of this violation of our privacy.

Please contact Vice Chancellors Pernot ([email protected]) and Tomino ([email protected], 312-553-2987) and let them know that you repudiate this arbitrary decision, that it stains the reputation of the CCC as a serious institution of higher education and makes it look like a cheap commercial franchise in which the bottom line predominates, and not the democratic goals of freedom from coercion and intellectual inquiry.

Rochelle Robinson-Dukes, Vice President for the CCC, AFT Local 1600 (full-time faculty, full-time and part-time professionals, and security guards)

Delores Withers, President, AFT Local 1708 (full-time and part-time clerical and technical workers)

Floyd Bednarz, President, CCCLOC (adjunct faculty)