France – Bluetooth tracking kids in school

According to this article a school in France are requiring children to wear radio frequency Bluetooth tracking devices.  Well, the school would like the children to wear the Bluetooth devices supplied by the start up company NewSchool – if they don’t wear the device, or if they loose it, the kids have to pay a fine of 10 Euros (£9 or $12).  Not really much choice there then.

The school using the radio frequency tracking device is the Lycée Rocroy Saint-Vincent de Paul, a private Catholic high school in Paris.

According to the BBC ‘French school in row over tracking pupils electronically‘ more than 3200 people have signed a petition against the school RFID tagging their pupils, with one pupil’s plea over twitter.

Not only will the  school be able to track the kids every move, soon parents (and puzzlingly students themselves) will be able to too!
Our NewSchool Teachers app is available for teachers only. Soon, we will release an application for students and parents of students. Patience so 😉”.
There is also a “Good Points” Reward package that comes with the NewSchool app, presumably for students that are compliantly tracked.

Philippine Dolbeau is the 18 year old founder of NewSchool, and happened to be a pupil of  the Lycée Rocroy Saint-Vincent de Paul private school where this RFID tacking system is being enforced September 2018.  This is how her website describes her:

“Philippine is an 18-year-old entrepreneur, founder of New School, and “Most Innovative Woman of 2017”.   She is recognized by much French national media as being the youngest entrepreneur of France. Philippine created her startup at the age of 15, while still studying at the lycée. While asked to create a pretend startup, the young teenager decided to go beyond the limits given and decided to make of NewSchool a real-life business in September 2014.”

One thing Philippine has failed to learn is the complete inappropriateness of
a) tracking each student with a Bluetooth device
b) fine them for not wearing the device
c) consent issues (duh) and
d) health issues increasingly being aired with regards to wireless technology and it exposure, especially at close hand.  (Wonder what her public liability insurance is like?).
She might have been the “Most Innovative Woman of the 2017” but for this???  Mmm…

Bluetooth transmits at 2.4GHz either at a range of 10, 100 or 1000 (1km) meters.  Given that this school wants to track students within the school, gym class, drills and field trips presumably the 10 meter device isn’t going to hack it.  More on Bluetooth data from the NordicSemi blog:

Undoubtedly more to come on this…

Image of the Bluetooth tracking device from https://www.laquadrature.net/fr/new_school

 

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The agenda to RFID track your child, giving away free chips

In November 2015 Richmond Sausages, a subsidiary of Kerry Foods, spent £3 million on an ongoing campaign to distribute 200,000 Bluetooth tracking chips, free RFID chips, to be claimed via packs of sausages. The aim of the Sausage and Chip campaign is to make meals times less stressful if a children’s toy, teddy, has gone missing… and this would sell their sausages why?

I have to say as a parent myself a child losing a toy at meal time (whether or not sausages are present) has never been an issue and I can never recall any conversation with another parent where losing a toy has been an issue, especially at meal times.

The company supplying the Bluetooth GPS chip is a company called B-on who lists the Amigo watch, for tracking children, amongst its three products. The watch can set up geo-fencing ‘safe-zones’ incorporating a pedometer to track your child’s activity.

B-on also supplies other tracking devices for adults, health monitoring and fitness tracking. Having said that I cannot find the Amigo Watch for sale anywhere online. Apart from a few articles published last year by Wired and TechCrunch the Amigo Watch has virtually no online presence apart from the B-on website where there is no facility to buy.

Maybe the Amigo watch never got off the ground and the company now has to give away their product in another form because there is no market for it? Perhaps B-on made a few hundred thousand watches that haven’t sold, and to lure the unsuspecting public into using a tracking product… ‘needing’ a tracking product, they have ‘repackaged’ the watches into tracking chips to hang round a child’s loved toy.

It is a nudge, especially for a young child. The message? RFID tag the stuff we love.

You can imagine the conversation “…but why don’t you tag me Mummy? You love me as much as I love Teddy don’t you?”. Clever.

So why would Richmond, a sausage manufacturer, spend millions of pounds giving away free RFID tracking devices essentially aimed at children? Splashing out £3million is a hefty amount of profit margin from sausages sales to recoup, plus 200,000 RFID tracking chips. It just seems odd?

Texas Bill to ban active RFID in schools

Texas
Good news indeed.  A bill banning the use of active radio frequency identification (RFID) that identifies and locates children in schools has been presented to the Texas LegislatureSenator Kolkhorst introduced SB486 on the 10th of February 2015 that reads:

“A school district may not require a student to use an identification device that uses active radio frequency identification technology or similar technology to identify the student, transmit information regarding the student, or track the location of the student”

Similar bills introduced in 2012 by the then Representative Lois Kolkhorst, HB101 and HB102, were unsuccessful.   More here on HB101 and HB102. Hopefully SB486 will be passed and Texas will be the second State in the USA that bans radio frequency identification used by children in schools to locate and transmit information.

Missouri was the first US State to ban RFID in schools in 2014.   SB523 came into effect October 2014 which “Prohibits school districts from requiring a student to use an identification device that uses radio frequency identification technology to transmit certain information”.

RFID transmitting the location of students is used in Texas.  However in Northside Independent School District (NISD) the RFID introduced in 2012 was a disastrous public relations exercise for the technology.

USA protest against tacking RFID

San Antonio – students protest against tracking RFID

One student in 2012 who attended John Jay High School in San Antonio, Andrea Hernandez , refused to carry the active 433MHz tag, that was going to transmit her whereabouts 24/7.  The school unbudging in its commitment to have the kids wear the active RFID expelled Andrea.

The Hernandez family took NISD to court, with the Judge’s decision unfortunately going against them.  Andrea had to move schools.  In July 2013 the RFID was scrapped.  NISD had introduced the RFID to improve school attendance which it failed miserably in (obviously!).  Quite how NSID expected students wearing a RFID tag around their necks would improve attendance is clearly a testament to the sales pitch of the company supplying the RFID, WADEgarcia.

There were many claims made about the RFID one of which was that only the school could track the RFID tag.  Not entirely correct.  The RFID tags the kids were, and are, wearing in Texas utilise the 433MHz radio frequency.  The same frequency used by RFID tags the US Military use to track their assets around the globe, in fact it is the very same standard ISO18000-7.  So let’s be very careful when making claims about RFID technology.  See paper ‘Military Systems compatible with Student Locator RFID‘.

Hopefully SB486’s progress will highlight what exactly RFID is capable of.  Not that I am suggesting the US Military is tracking children in America but only that the technology does have capabilities and is open to be fallible.

Final update on West Cheshire College RFID tagging students

Public Acc CommAfter nearly a year of being quiet about West Cheshire College tagging their students with RFID, a final update to round the story off as there have been some happenings behind the scenes.  The monetary spend of £1,050,242 on ultra wideband RFID that ‘failed’ in it’s job to monitor the students, despite it being used by the military, is the language that speaks to UK parliament.  The civil liberties lost and invasion of privacy the 14-19 year old, blissfully unaware, students suffered were ignored by the establishment.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) did their job well in ensuring the college met it obligations under the Freedom of Information Act.  It took time for me to get answers to my Freedom of Information requests but I got what information the college had in the end after involving the ICO.  There was a distinct change of attitude with regards to co-operation from the college when there was a change of Principal early in 2013, maybe that is coincidence.

In February 2014, Tom Watson MP asked three written questions in parliament to the Department of Education about West Cheshire College’s use of RFID tagging students.  As expected the Department of Education knew nothing about this.  Hansard references here: Feb 4th, Feb 6th and Feb 10th.

After learning, from Freedom of Information requests, that the college had spent over a million pounds on untested, uncosted, undocumented, unstandardised RFID I contacted the Public Accounts Committee to report the cost.  They passed the enquiry onto the National Audit Office who carried out an investigation into the unusual accounting of this spend.  On the 10th November 2014 I received a letter from Margaret Hodge MP who oversees the Public Accounts committee:

“Inquiries made by the National Audit Office of the Skills Funding Agency suggest that the Agency have no knowledge of student tracking systems in operation at further education colleges.  I understand from your previous communication that you have already received confirmation from the Department of Business Innovation and Skill and the Department of Education that they do not hold specific information on the tracking system in question and they they are not running and programmes to introduce such systems more widely in schools an colleges.

The National Audit Officer have highlighted to me previous weaknesses in the arrangements to access and manage capitol funding bids from further education colleges.  At about the same time that West Cheshire College would have made its bid for new buildings broader concerns began to emerge about the then Learning Skills Council’s (LSC) overall management of the capitol programme.  These concerns were brought to light in critical reports by Sir Andrew Foster and the Education Select Committee.

The LSC was disbanded in 2010 and it’s responsibilities, including management of further education capitol investment programme, were assumed by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA).  A Cabinet Office review of the SFA’s investment programme in 2013 reported that the criteria for distributing grants had been developed in a way which promoted value for money.

In the absence of any further evidence of a wider problem the National Audit Office is not planning to undertake any further inquiries at this time.

So a botched spend on flawed technology, mismanaged by the college and the government?  Or the RFID industry using UK students at West Cheshire College, wearing RFID supplied and pioneered by Zebra Technologies, for the IEEE 802.15 4f standard approved February 2012, which Tim Harrington, the Vice President of Zebra Technologies, sat on the IEEE 802.15.4f working group on?

Whatever it is or is not the sorry episode is done, with students and parents non the wiser it ever happened.  This practice of tagging students with RFID is common in the USA, let us hope the UK does not follow suit.

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.