Missouri bans tracking RFID in schools

Missouri bans tracking RFID in schools.  In the first of its kind legislation, Missouri Senator Ed Emery‘s bill was passed last week.  Ksn.com reports that “The bill will take effect in October after lawmakers overrode Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of the bill this past week, just barely getting the required two-thirds majority in both chambers.

The bill, SB523, simply reads:

1. No school district shall require a student to use an identification device that uses radio frequency identification
technology, or similar technology, to identify the student, transmit information regarding the student, or monitor or track the location of the student.
2. For purposes of this section, “radio frequency identification technology” shall mean a wireless identification system that uses an electromagnetic radio frequency signal to transmit data without physical contact between a card, badge, or tag and another device.

SB523Many schools in the USA track their students using active RFID which is a chip powered by a small battery and emits a regular pulsed radio frequency signal.  Readers then pinpoint the location of chip, thereby identifying the child’s whereabouts.  Wearing such a device is huge invasion of privacy of the children potentially being able to be seen in sensitive areas such as washrooms, school nurse, etc.

The technology is not without controversy.  One student, Andrea Hernandez in San Antonio, refused to wear the chip on religious grounds and was excluded from her high school as a result.  The somewhat extreme action by the school gained international exposure and support from privacy groups.  After a year of running the RFID locator programme the scheme was scrapped.

The excellent ‘Position Paper on the Use of RFID in Schools‘ sets out the concerns with using this technology with children and heartening to see that Missouri have taken this on board and banned tracking RFID in schools.

4 mile tracking RFID to be piloted on children in US school distict

The RFID Journal reports that a company in California, Iotera, is developing a 900MHz RFID tag that has a 4 mile range and that “a school district will use it to track students arriving on campus or traveling to and from school“.  Rather than just being able to track students on campus this new geographical tracking takes tagging children one step further.
Iotera child case study
Iotera have visions of smart cities with the Internet of Things (IoT) long-range “sensors to increase safety and efficiency” – in this company’s eyes this involves tagging humans.

The figures on how dangerous it is for children attending school are unknown but it seems that participating in the activity of schooling is relatively safe otherwise why would governments insist children attend school and parents willingly send them?  There is inherent risk in all activities humans do and carrying RFID chips, emitting frequencies that have unquantifiable health effects and “smart”ing cities up, bathing us all in electrosmog does not sound any safer than the situation we have now – where children are free of RFID tags.

With the possible risk to health of carrying emitting RFID and the added risk of other people tracking RFID tags that children carry, by hacking into their RFID emitting signal, the “increase safety” that Iotera claim is disputable.

But yet again we see the next generation via school being conditioned to use technology and be advised it is for their safety/convenience and learn that it is perfecting acceptable for others to track their whereabouts.  Apart from the risks mentioned above associated with carrying RFID technology, a recent article by Slyck NewsStudent Monitoring by Schools, is it Really Necessary or Far Too Controlling?” addresses the glaring privacy issues that surveilling the next generation raises.

With companies gearing up for the Internet of Things another company DecaWave also are preparing themselves with ultra wideband (UWB) RFID chips to monitor humans, stating that “children and infirm adults will be monitored for their safety and security“.  Their website goes on to say:  “And in the future, DecaWave’s chip will be incorporated into cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices not yet thought of, to interact with our surroundings in ways not yet imagined.”

Many will embrace this ubiquitous living as convenient but as our privacy quickly becomes eroded so does the erosion of any form of freedom to protest against corrupt systems.  Do we have a right to refuse to use or would our anomalous behaviour flag us up non compliant citizens?

OBE for ‘RFID tagging’ ex college principal

Sara Mogel RFID taggin students

Sara Mogel OBE – was Principal at the first UK school, West Cheshire College, to use active RFID tags to track students on campus

Sara Mogel, ex principal of West Cheshire College.  The woman who thought it was a good idea to spend over £1million of taxpayers money on RFID tags to hang round students neck to track them in real time, gets an OBE for ‘for services to vocational education‘.

I think it is fair to say her contribution to UK education and the RFID industry is certainly unique, though whether it deserves an OBE is debatable.  She is responsible for the decision to hang microwave radio frequency devices around children’s necks in a ground breaking trial of ultra wideband RFID, tracking the children on campus every second.  The first instance of a school in the UK using RFID technology to track individual children’s every movements…  that was scrapped in February 2013 just before she left. (I wonder if the college got a £1,000,000 refund for this?)

No reporting in the local press.  No communication with parents.  The college had no idea of the specification of the RFID, worryingly therefore no information on the specific absorption rate (SAR) of the radio frequencies on the human body.  The health effects of radio frequencies (RF) on the human body are seemingly unquantifiable at present but as more research is done on this topic it is becoming more apparent that caution should be taken and prudencey exercised to limit our bodies to RF exposure.  The RFID journal themselves suggest distancing the human body 1 meter from a reader/antenna.

Let us sincerely hope that there will be no ill health effects from the students wearing RFID tags under Sara Mogel OBE’s watch at West Cheshire College and this does not come and bite her back in the future.

Ultra wideband RFID tracking children in the UK – an invasion of privacy?

West Cheshire College and its tagging of students with active RFID was reported in the The Guardian’s article from 19th November 2013 ‘Is UK college’s RFID chip tracking of pupils an invasion of privacy?

RFID tracking at West Cheshire College taken from the video made of the system by the supplier, Zebra Technologies

RFID tracking pupils at West Cheshire College taken from the video made of the system by the supplier, Zebra Technologies

It is only an invasion of privacy if one is fully aware of being tracked.  If the data subject is blissfully unaware of the ubiquitous technology it carries, then there is an ignorance of the invasion of privacy the RFID tag is perpetrating.

Parents of the students tagged with RFID at West Cheshire College had no knowledge their children were being tracked every second by an active RFID chip.  The college can provide no literature given to students about this and no privacy impact assessment was done.  The college can only “assume that information about RFID was also communicated verbally to studentsduring induction in which “the induction process is covered verbally with students”.

An adult pops a RFID tag round a child’s neck and assumes that this second by second tracking was communicated effectively, verbally during an induction?  The fact that not one student or parent objected to this rings warning bells.

Did no intelligent thinking adult at the college think that possibly, just quite possibly, that verbally informing students about electronically tagging them may bring up issues of consent from a minor and that perhaps this level of communication may leave the college vulnerable to criticism and, at the very worst, possible litigation.  And did no one there consider that electronically RFID tagging another human and viewing their location in real time is compromising their privacy, maybe even just a tiddy-widdy bit?

Apart from the invasive intrusion of an adult peering into where children are –  who they hang out with, when they are visiting the toilet, shower, school nurse – no privacy checks or advice from Department for Education, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Children’s Commissioner or any legal body (see question 1 and 2) was undertaken by the college.

On top of the lack of regard to procedures concerning consent and privacy considerations, the college did not know when they started RFID tagging the children.  Really? – yes really.  Asked about when they started RFID tagging children, under a Freedom of Information Act request, the college replied that no information was held on this at all.  As this was a fairly surprising answer from the college, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who oversees the Freedom of Information Act, was asked to intervene.  Indeed, amazingly, West Cheshire College also confirmed to the ICO that they really did not (honest guv) have any information about when they started RFID tagging children there.

Bearing in mind that lying under the Freedom of Information Act is an offence and that “A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine“, we must take these answers from the college as gospel.

The Guardian article failed to mention cost which came in at £1,050,242 (ex VAT).  Over a million pounds of public money spent on a RFID human tracking system that there is no information about and that the college has now scrapped due to thesoftware would not communicate effectively to the current register system” and “escalating costs“.  A million pound spent on a RFID system the college cannot not even recall when implemented?

What an amazing, jawdropping sequence of events.  This could almost be made into the perfect example of a ‘what not to do when RFID tagging children in education’ handbook.  A truely epic fail.

So back to the question ‘Is UK college’s RFID chip tracking of pupils an invasion of privacy?‘ – most probably.  Here is the video of the system on Youtube – you decide.

RFID Journal – People should remain at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) from a RFID reader/antenna

RFID reader definitionThe RFID Journal is one of the world’s foremost sources of RFID news globally and has reported positively on the benfits of RFID tagging children and teachers in schools with active RFID.   On the 4th November 2013 this question was asked on their ‘Ask the Experts Forum’ - Are there any health risks with prolonged exposure to ultra high frequency (UHF) radio frequency (RF) fields?  

Interesting then when Mark Roberti, the Founder and Editor of the RFID Journal, then advises in his response that:

people should remain at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) from a reader.


Really.  How is it okay for the RFID Journal to report 
positively about schools tagging children and teachers wearing ultra high frequency (UHF) active RFID tags, effectively endorsing the wearing of active RFID chips, when they also comment on the very potential health hazards of radio frequencies?

RFID Active definitionIn the USA Northside Independant School District RFID tagged their student population with active 433MHz RFID tags from 2012 until 2013.  In Germany students and teachers wear active RFID tags compatible with wifi 2.45GHz, in the US the same tag is being worn by teachers.  West Cheshire College students in the UK wore ultra wideband (UWB) active RFID tags around their neck in a lanyard, emitting a 6.35-6.75GHz radio frequency every second, from 2010 until 2013.  West Cheshire College admitted to viewing students in “peer groups” with their RFID real time location system  - so not just for registration or safety reasons then?

Daniel Engels, “Director of the University of Texas at Arlington‘s Radio Frequency Innovation and Technology Center, and an associate professor in the college’s Department of Electrical Engineering” was quoted in a previous RFID Journal article from June 2009 entitled ‘Can RFID be harmful to the human body‘ stated that:

“The basic result of all of our work is that really close proximity to UHF [ultrahigh-frequency] RFID readers  [antennas] has potential health issues”

Should we be tagging children and teachers with active RFID when the  International Agency for Research on Cancer/World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a possible carcinogen to humans, causing cancers and tumors?  Erm… I think that would be a no!

Maybe schools be prudent and ready themselves for possible litigation claims in the future…

RFID UHF definition   RFID Interrogater definition

A child consenting to be tracked should be given a choice, and what about the parents right to know who is tracking their children?

Against RFID in schools

Tracking capabilities as shown in their supplier’s video ‘Optimizing the Learning Experience with a Zebra Tracking Solution”

When a UK college recently used a RFID real time location system to track students on their campuses in Chester and Ellesmere Port from 2010 – 2013.  Apart from whoever thought this was a good idea somewhere in the tiers of the college management, how did the college manage to persuade the thousands of students it tracked, that this was a good idea too?  How did the students consent to staff being able to “… look at them [students and staff] in groups, such as peer groups.”  Locations being seen in, possibly toilets, showers, school nurse, etc?

In a reply to a Freedom of Information request, this is how the college gained fully informed consent – apparently “Information relating to the RFID tags and their purpose was covered during College induction/ enrolment.”

When pressed further on this consent gaining process the college refuses to answer questions.  Only when the Information Commissioner’s Office intervenes it is revealed quite how the college considers meaningful consent is gained from students to be tracked by an RFID tag ‘bleeping’ it’s whereabouts every second“we can confirm that the induction process is covered verbally with students. It is fair to assume that information about RFID was also communicated verbally to students”.

Erm, is that consent?

The college refused to answer a Freedom of Information request, December 2012, and upon an internal review *still* could not answer one question, which was a simply yes/no answer, as to whether or not staff were RFID tagged – astonishing.  Yet when pressed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, in July 2013 (full report here) the college replied, ‘staff badge tags remained inactive and were not in active use for any purpose. Staff who had a RFID badge for first aid purposes also had inactive badges’  (why would staff carry an inactive RFID for first aid? and why not state that initially?)

RTLS Mapping West Cheshire College

It’s difficult to see what is happening here – either a shocking inability of knowledge or lack of awareness of  responsibility to answer basic questions under the Freedom of Information Act.  But when children are tracked in this manner, literally their every move with the potential to be scrutinized, there should be absolute transparency.

RFID make kids safer apparently

Over the summer break some schools in the US have treated themselves to RFID location systems, one school district seems to have excelled itself in the level of intrusion of it’s students while other schools it seems are only tagging staff with RFID using the school’s existing wifi.

Here in the UK we had one college, West Cheshire College, that looked at using active RFID over it’s existing wifi to track students, staff and assets but found that using an ultra wideband RFID, tagging 5,500 students, saved them $400,000 – $600,000 – that’s a lot of money.  However wifi based RFID is being used in the US to track staff, not students yet, at very aptly named schools called Skyview and Grandview.  A third school to use the active RFID using wifi is Patrick Henry School in Virginia.  Patrick Henry was a brilliant orator and a major figure of the American Revolution - best known for his quote “Give me liberty or give me death“.

Liberty - the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behaviour or political views.

give_me_liberty_1Is liberty compromised by RFID tagging and tracking humans, in this case children, with authority knowing your every move, behaviors and peer group association?   In the case of Belleville Public School District in New Jersey it seems liberty certainly may be compromised here.   As reported in the RFID Journal the school district is “implementing an active radio frequency identification [RFID] solution to locate students and faculty members within its schools, as well as students on its 21 buses… cameras with built-in analytic software, and a new phone system—as well as the posting of armed officers and a new director of security”.  Is is that dangerous being at school?  That sort of security is only afforded to inmates in prison but the technology in prisons is in place to stop people from getting out whereas at school it is there to stop people from getting in (with a massive added bonus of vast data harvesting).

Is it worth sacrificing privacy and liberty for this perceived improvement of safety as the above examples in the US cite?  And at what point does society put it’s foot down and say enough, we need our privacy.  It is doubtful the next generation will do that, being normalised to this high level of surveillance from school.

Patrick Henry Quote