Civil liberties, Consent, Ethical, Privacy, Real Time Location System, RFID children, RFID College, RFID school, RFID tracking, Tracking children, UK, West Cheshire College

“And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”

According to an article from April 2012 in RFID Journal, [NB. This RFID Journal article was withdrawn from the RFID Journal's website w/c 7 Jan 2013.  A Copy of the article (pdf) is here and here is the original article on the Internet Archieve Wayback Machine] West Cheshire College are RFID tracking 5,500 full-time students and have been doing so since 2010.

After the opening of its new campus at Ellesmere Port, Liverpool, the college “has successfully implemented Zebra’s real time location tracking solution with the ability to track and increase the visibility of 20,000 students across its two campuses” states Zebra Technologies, the US company who supplies the RFID tracking system.

Kevin Francis, West Cheshire College’s Building Services Area Manager, uses an interesting choice of language on Zebra Technologies website  [ NBZebra Technologies withdrew the article from their website late February/early March 2013. A copy of the press release (pdf) is here  and this is Internet Archive Wayback Machine’s link to the original webpage] to describe the college’s reasons for buying the technology – using the terms “asset tracking”  and  “optimizing our learning resources.” (referring to the students presumably?) with “specialist location solution capabilities” .  Are these phrases we may be hearing more of as other schools follow suit?

This all boils down to funding, states the RFID Journal :

“…the school also plans to utilize the RTLS [Real Time Location System] solution to reliably, quickly and accurately track student attendance, and to document that each student’s attendance record matches the actual number of hours for which the college receives funding (a process that is currently manual and time-consuming).”

It could be argued that an alternative method, other than RFID tagging students, could be found that would not be manual and time consuming.  An alternative, less invasive attendance system could be implemented, one that does not involve the college’s knowledge of each students every move.

The accurate attendance of students and the financial rewards that may reap from RFID tracking pupils is not the college’s only reason for locating the students and staff in real time, as Kevin Francis states to the RFID Journal:

Francis says this software will provide “reports if [students or staff] are leaving early,” stating,
“We can search for individual [students or staff]. And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”  (Why?)

The privacy implications for the use of RFID technology constantly tracking a persons every move are massive, possibly insidious and very much open to abuse.  Clearly, as stated by Kevin Francis in the RFID Journal’s article, West Cheshire College will not just be monitoring attendance levels but will also be looking at individual associations.  The technology will reveal where students are with Real Time Location Systems.

How will this affect student and staff behaviour?  Trips to the toilet - been there too long?  Too many visits to a school nurse?  Student/staff relationship?  Students relationships?  Who has access to this information?

This RFID technology tracking humans in real time certainly raises more questions, than solutions it provides.

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