Tag Archives: Freedom of Information

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.

West Cheshire College. Nothing to hide? Then nothing to fear, surely?

Youtube banning video Aug 8th 2013Well, it had to happen at some point.  West Cheshire College have joined the RFID Journal and Zebra Technologies in the need to erase evidence of their part in tracking children, using a real time location system, at West Cheshire College with active RFID for 3 years since 2010.

West Cheshire College contacted Youtube about ‘copyright infringement’ on the video posted on our channel detailing their RFID tagging of students.  Presumably any copyright infringement is on images of the college not the content of RFID tagging the kids, as the college never claims to have ‘accepted‘ the technology stating they were only trialing tracking students (for whom?) with RFID that they used for 3 years.

Does West Cheshire College’s intervention in yet more removal of evidence from the internet of RFID tagging children at the college fan the fire of an attempted cover up?  Along with the of removal of press releases, articles and video by the RFID Journal and Zebra Technologies on the same topic, I’m not quite sure what else it does suggest really.

What is the cost of active RFID UWB tagging students at West Cheshire College?

You’d have though some simple questions on cost and funding may have been easy to answer, especially when you are investing in a state of the art, military standard, ultra wideband RFID tagging system for tracking children in real time?   It would seem not.

UWB RFID tracking students at West Cheshire College

West Cheshire College, according to the RFID Journal, started tracking students in 2010 with active RFID tags emitting a radio frequency signal, over 300 feet every second, to sensors around the college to pinpoint the students position to an accuracy within 1 meter – featuring some of most sophisticated RFID capabilities on the market. 

According to the college, the Chief Executive/Principal, a role held by Sara Mogel, was responsible for the New Buildings project at the College under which the RFID tracking system was installed.   So great a return on investment the RFID system proved to be, that the college’s Business Area Services Manager, Kevin Francis, went to Florida, USA, in April 2012 to give a presentation at an international RFID conference of how successful UWB RFID was at tracking kids.

So how much does this cost the British tax payer and how was the RFID and was funded?   To cut a very long exchange of  Freedom of Information Request (FOIR) and West Cheshire College’s replies short (which can be read here) apparently this is how a state of the art RFID student tracking system is procured at one of the UK’s largest Further Education colleges: 

Finance – West Cheshire college cannot be clear if the system was purchased, if it was purchased they cannot  find the cost.  The word “impossible” was used.

Implementation  – The college does not hold nor can provide any documents or records whatsoever on any discussions about the implementation of the RFID system.

Supplier – The college claim they have had no contact with the supplier,  Zebra Technologies, at all.   Zebra had on their website a videoOptimising the learning experience with a Zebra Location Solution” of the college, staff and students promoting the real time student tracking system.   This would seem to highlight that a company can film the college, staff and students without contact with the college at all.

Lack of Information – Members of staff that have left have been cited as a reason for the college not being able to provide information under its obligation to the Freedom of Information Act.  

Staff trip to Florida – West Cheshire College hold no documents or records about sending a member of staff to another continent to present the college’s use of UWB RFID to the RFID industry.  The college states that “In such cases there are no costs presented to the college and all matters are settled by the sponsors.”   Does this apply to this case/trip?  They have no documents on it either way, so maybe not?  Who knows?

Against RFID in schools

Student Consent and privacy -The college cannot be clear on how consent from students has been gained, whether any privacy impact assessments have been carried out.  They could not be clear on the specification of the RFID used to track the students.  These unanswered questions on consent and privacy, asked under the Freedom of Information Act, are now lodged  as an official complaint with the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Either West Cheshire College’s understanding of the Freedom of Information Act is extremely poor or the college’s answers under the Freedom of information Act raise some serious questions about what is going on at the college as a whole.  If West Cheshire College’s responses under the Freedom of Information Act are to be believed – which they must as the college has obligation under the law to respond truthfully – then practices at the college appear to highlight serious breaches of student consent, privacy, audit trails, accountability, transparency and security.  This would be quite astonishing.

The seriousness of child/student welfare should be of absolute paramount concern to any educational establishment acting in parentis locus and replies given under the Freedom of Information Act must be taken seriously – to this extent the Information Commissioner’s Office who oversees the Freedom of Information Act and Data Protection Act has been made fully aware of this situation.

We will let the penultimate slide of Kevin Francis’s presentation to the RFID Industry last April 2012, sum up:   “West Cheshire College – a first in the Education sector”

West Cheshire College stops tracking students with RFID

West Cheshire College, UK, have stopped tracking their students with active RFID tags since using the technology from 2010.
Active location tracking RFID West Cheshire College

On the 26th of February a complaint was made to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) concerning the college’s refusal to answer a Freedom of Information request about consent and civil liberties regarding using active RFID tags to trace students movements around West Cheshire College campuses at Handbridge and Ellesmere Port.

On 27th February the college states they do not use the RFID:  As the trial has now concluded, all RFID tags are inactive and have been recalled.” 

On 18th February West Cheshire College, in an FOIR reply, appears still to be using a student RFID location system and on 27th February, 9 days later, the college states it has ceased using the ultra wideband RFID location system.

A RFID system so excellent that the college sent an employee to Florida last April, 2012, to lecture the RFID industry on the Return On Investment (ROI) the RFID provided for the college (see 2pm on April 5th).  However there are unanswered Freedom of Information requests regarding how the RFID was funded, if indeed the college has ever paid for the system.  This then presents the question as to why would West Cheshire College send an employee to Florida, USA, to lecture the RFID industry on a new ultra wideband RFID standard on a return on investment that the college never invested in?

From West Cheshrie College presenting a Return On Investment (ROI) presentation in April 2012 in Florida, to scrapping it in February 2013 it would seem the college has also scrapped all information whatsoever on the groundbreaking industry standard RFID  they have had in the college since 2010.

On the 27th February 2013, a day after a complaint to the ICO, West Cheshire College offered a late reply to the Freedom of Information request asked on 10th December 2012 regarding consent and civil liberties.  After the college did a “search for information” it can uncover “no information” at all on how consent was gained from students, whether the college did a Privacy Impact Assessment to access the RFID or how the college could use a RFID for registration when “The technology is not used for tracking of individual students“.  Maybe that is why the RFID was scrapped – how can a system that does not individually track children work for registration? …and it took them 2 years to come to that conclusion?  (Really?)  There are anomalies in all this that seem not to add up.

One could draw an opinion that West Cheshire College are evading questions on why an unstandardised active RFID location system has been used to track children for over 2 years.  There are unanswered questions on how consent was gained and how the college, days after scrapping the technology, seem to have completely expunged all records of the ultra wideband RFID and in fact have no evidence of the RFID real time location system used there.

The Information Commissioner’s Office is now handling the complaint of how West Cheshire College managed their legal obligation to give information under the Freedom of Information Act.  This active type RFID technology has the capacity to be used covertly and the potential for lack of transparency by educational establishments using a real time location system is completely plausible.

Contactless RFIDDifferent people have differing levels of privacy.  If you or your child are wearing or carrying a card or tag that communicates remotely to a system and you have concerns how ‘smart’ or ‘contactless’ technology works – ask questions.  We all know data gathering is vast in today’s age.  Making sure you are aware of who is accessing your data is prudent, none of us truly know where our information may end up, who views it and how it may be used for or against us.

RFID *not* used to track students …honest guv

Active RFID “…not used for tracking of individual students.”  which was West Cheshire College’s reply to a Freedom Of Information Request in December 2012.  (Really?)

This is how West Cheshire College *don’t track* individual students (see page 20)  – from their employee Kevin Francis’s presentation when he visited Disneyland, Florida, in April 2012 to lecture the RFID industry on the Real Time Location Tracking system in place for students at the college.

K Francis presentation April 2021

Hard to get information about UK college’s RFID student location system

West Cheshire College staff RFID conference, Disneyland, Florida, 2012A college in the UK, West Cheshire College has a new industry standard Ultra Wideband RFID Real Time Location System used to monitor students in the college.

The RFID tracking scheme is proving such a success that Kevin Francis, West Cheshire College’s Building Services Area manager, travelled to Florida in April 2012 to speak about the Return Of Investment (ROI) the RFID tracking system gives the college at a ‘RFID Live!’ conference.

Interestingly, information from West Cheshire College about its RFID student tracking system does not flow quite as freely here in the UK . West Cheshire College’s response to recent Freedom of Information requests about the RFID location technology, and how it is used, could be considered patchy at the least.

The following questions were asked on January 3rd 2013 under the Freedom of Information Act.  A simple ‘confirm’, ‘not confirm’ or ‘not know’ was required from West Cheshire College.  The points raised in the questions were all reported in the media the college had communicated with.
Not particularly difficult then?

1) Please could West Cheshire college confirm if the below details* are correct and that these are the characteristics of RFID tags the  students use:

* Ultra wideband RFID tags emit brief radio frequency signals across the entire 6.35 to 6.75 GHz frequency band.
* Average battery lifespan of a RFID tag is seven years.
* Receivers, which can receive tag signals from up to 328 feet  away, are located throughout the campus buildings, in order to ensure that the tags can be pinpointed no matter where within the school a student might be located.
* RFID tags provides accuracy within 1 meter (3.3 feet).
* RFID Tag transmission rate of once per second.
* West Cheshire College uses RFID with a real time location system.
* The real time location system enables observation of student and staff in peer groups.
    
If any the RFID detail above is not correct please could you advise accordingly how the RFID used differs with the above points.

3) Please could West Cheshire College confirm if the following is correct:

* West Cheshire College deployed RFID technology in two phases — first at its Chester Campus, in 2010, and then at its newly built Ellesmere Port Campus in 2011*

West Cheshire College wrote back refusing to answer the above saying that “Under section 14(2), public authorities do not have to comply with repeated requests for the same information from the same person. In reaching a jugement, we have found that your request for information in [above]questions 1 and 3 were a repeated request to the one submitted to the College on 23rd November 2012”. 

Now we are having problems seeing quite where and how the college replied to the above questions in the below answers they gave to the Freedom of Information request on 23rd November.  If anyone can clarify what we have missed, please let us know.  We simply would like to see the information.

1) Does West Cheshire College or any associated campuses use radio frequency identification (RFID) tags with students.
A: We introduced RFID on a trial basis to assess how the technology could be used for automatic registration of students and to improve the efficiency of the building.

2) What are these RFID tags used for? Please detail the applications. I.e. attendance, cafeteria, libraries, etc.
A: We are currently trialling the technology for the purposes of automatic registration of students and to improve the efficiency of the building. We are also trialling the technology for tracking the movement of physical assets i.e. ipads, laptops and camera equipment. The technology is not used for tracking of individual students. A decision as to the future use of the technology will be made at the end of the trial period (this is expected to be completed in March 2013).

[N.B. Quite how “automatic registration” happens without the “tracking of individual students” prompted another Freedom of Information request, sent to West Cheshire College 10th December, and included this point to be clarified.  West Cheshire College wrote back refusing to answer.]

3) How many students carry RFID tags.
 A: All full-time students (2000) were issued with RFID tags as part of the trial.

4) Please provide any literature given to students informing them of RFID tags use within the college and its campuses.
A: Information relating to the RFID tags and their purpose was covered during College induction/ enrolment.

West Cheshire College’s staff, whose salaries are paid for by public money, have bought a  RFID tracking system, with public money.   The RFID, thought to be the first of its kind in the UK, is bought and paid for by us, the British public.  Strange then how West Cheshire College refuse to answer perfectly legitimate Freedom of Information requests about how they have spent our money – but yet will communicate, to the point of sending member of staff to another continent, to speak to the RFID industry about the RFID Real Time Location System they have.

If this RFID technology is so great a Return On Investment, why not tell us how our UK taxpayers money has been spent?   Why there is no mention of it on West Cheshire College’s website?  Or even why, at the very least, there is no declaration of the RFID tracking system to monitor students movements on their entry on UK’s Data Protection Register ?

Yet again, more questions than there are answers.

RFID Journal pulls article on UK college RFID tracking students

After four recent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to West Cheshire College about their RFID real time location system (RTLS) the college answered the first FOI request, though some detail was lacking, and replied to the second Freedom of Information request informing that there would be no answer from them as there “has not been a reasonable interval since your initial request”

Freedom of Information Act 2000Erm… there is no exemption in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that mentions time period between FOI requests.  Maybe West Cheshire College should let a member of staff who is knowledgable about their legal obligation under the Freedom of Information Act deal with FOI requests  – not their Press Office who wrote the refusal to reply.

Coincidentally within a 24 hour period of West Cheshire College’s refusal to answer FOI requests, the article in the RFID Journal ‘West Cheshire College Tracks Whereabouts of Students, Staff,’ that details the RFID system the college uses was pulled from the internet.  (A pdf of the article can be found here)

This was one of only two source articles which detail West Cheshire College’s RFID system.  The other article is on the suppliers website, Zebra Technologies.

Maybe its a wild coincidence but it seems that there is clamp down of what exactly is going on at West Cheshire College.