Monthly Archives: May 2013

RFID Wifi tags for teachers in the wake of Sandy Hook

Wifi tags percieved terror

In the age of perceived terrorism that we live in, it seems that technology offers our children safety in a school environment.

Skyview High School‘s Mandy Petty, a school counselor, commented, “Look at what we spend to protect our banks, our cars, our homes. When do we start protecting our kids and what is the dollar value to that?”  The question is protecting our kids against what?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, Ekahau, a company that supplies active RFID tags to the medical industry to track hospital equipment, has now supplied a school with active RFID tags that enables teachers to communicate with the local police department as soon as a terror threat happens, medical emergency or simply “to get help with a student that may be unruly“.  Ekahau have already supplied this RFID to staff and students to a school in Germany after a shooting incident.

At the moment only the teachers are wearing the wifi enabled RFID tags; how long will it be until the children will be wearing them too and normalized into using privacy intrusive technology for ‘safety’?  The intent behind this use of  RFID is admirable but with this application of RFID, that gives the police a real time eye into the school, it has the potential to lull in a false sense of security, when practically any person deciding to wield a firearm anywhere cannot be predicted or stopped if they are determined to cause harm.

Terrorism should not be used as an excuse to “dollar value” our rights to privacy.  These shootings are terrible and the perpetrators, whoever they are, should be brought to justice.  Thankfully the chances of dying from a bee sting are greater than that of dying from an act of terrorism.

Let’s hope that this school never has to use this RFID for the extremely slim chance that a random shooter may visit them, though I suspect the technology will be put to good use for other reasons – not terrorism.

“The badge has only been in use for two weeks and some say they can’t imagine not having it.

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RFID “tracking cows to make them happy”

Livestock

BBC: RTLS The technology tracking cows to make them happy

Lucky, lucky cows.  They too can bathe in the same 6.35GHz frequencies as students have been recently at West Cheshire College, a 14-19 college in the UK.  But the ultra wideband (UWB) RFID used by the cows – supplied by Zebra Technologies, the same company that supplied the college – has more refined specifications than the UWB RFID the kids carried.

As the students at West Cheshire College (WCC) were the first “live” recipients of the Zebra’s RFID Dart, their use of the real time location system since 2010 seems to have helped hone Zebra’s UWB RFID technology even further for the benefits of livestock tracking.

Welcome to “CowView” and its happy cows:

Cow herds UWB RFID Tags Students UWB RFID Tags
Monitor behavior i.e. lying down, standing up
Can predict when in heat
6-10 days for RFID system to learn behavior
Alerts for illness
Management alerts when cows behavior is different
Ultra wideband RFID Real Time Location System (RTLS) – same as WCC
Tag life of 7 years
– same as WCC
Tag blinks every second or more
– same as WCC
Real Time Location System available on hand held devices
Locate RFID tag to within 30cm or better
– WCC to within 1 meter
Uses Zebra Dart Technology
– same as WCC
IEEE Standard 802.15 4f
(RFID  Journal)
– same as WCC
Operates at 6.3 GHz
– WCC 6.35-6.75GHz
Tags have a range more than 300ft (RFID Journal)
– same as WCC
Sensors have a range more than 600ft (BBC)

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”