Should school children have tracking chips?
By: Patrick Kiger
While I've written in the past about civil libertarians' concerns about RFID chips, I was tempted to poke fun at Norris for his conspiracy-minded alarmism, and question whether he'd been conked on the head a bit too hard while fighting a bear. That is, until I saw a recent article in the International Business Times, entitled "Invasion Of Privacy? RFID Tracking Kids On School Buses." The latter describes the Gordon Counta, Ga. school district's new pilot program to keep track of students on school buses through a system called StudentConnect, IBT reports that the technology combines Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology with a "passive" RFID chip--the sort that doesn't have its own power source and will only respond to a signal from a receiver device when it is nearby, rather than broadcasting a signal. (Here's a HowStuffWorks article on how RFID tagging works.)
Andrej Jeremic, executive for East Coast Diversified Corp,the company that makes the technology, told IBT that it is not a tracking device, but that it only notifies parents and school officials if a student deviates from his or her normal schedule: "If little Johnny is off playing in the arcade instead of on the bus, we can let his parents know he's not where he's supposed to be." But the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a civil-liberties group, contends that there's a slippery slope to RFID. "What you're doing is telling kids it's normal to be tracked," EPIC's Khaliah Barnes warned.
It turns out that Gordon County isn't the first place to use RFID to track students. School districts in California and Texas began using RFID badges to monitor students on school buses back in the mid-2000s. Moreover, in San Antonio, 4,200 high school and middle school students now are carrying a ID cards with embedded RFID chips, which allow school officials to identify them and track their movements inside their schools. As this 2012 San Antonio Express-News article details, school administrators hope to keep a better handle on attendance and to make campus services more efficient. Indeed, some high school students are happy with the badges, saying that the card reader in the school cafeteria speeds up the line, giving them more time to eat lunch. And they like being able to check out books from the library without waiting for the school's lone library staffer to help them.
Not everybody, though, likes the tags. In January, a federal judge ruled against a student who filed suit after being suspended from school for refusing to wear the badge. (The district did relent and give her permission to wear a RFID-free card.) Others wonder about whether the school district is holding onto the data it gathers, and what uses it might eventually put that information.
Again, these RFID chips are embedded in ID cards, not in the kids themselves, which should give some comfort to the conspiracy theorists worried about bearing the mark of the beast. Implantation in humans is something that a lot of futurists worried about a few years back, after a device called the VeriChip was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for medical patient identification in 2004. But it doesn't seem to have caught on, though the Israeli military bought some of the chips in 2011.
So what do you think? Should RFID be used to track school children? Or is it the first step toward a surveillance society? Express your opinion below.
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