Category Archives: Consent

RFID for pupil attendance not fit for purpose

Northside Independent School District (NSID), San Antonio, Texas, have scrapped the 433 MHz active RFID tracking technology used to log students in school.  It was claimed tracking children with RFID would improve attendance.  In reality it made virtually no difference whatsoever.  “student attendance increased by only 0.5 percent on the high school campus where the program was tested. Results at the middle school campus were even lower, at 0.07 percent.”

What it did do was made for a good exercise to see how tagging kids with 433MHz – the same frequency used by the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and NATO to track their assets around the USA – worked in a civilian population.

With Skyview (aptly named) High School recently installing active RFID tags for staff and students working with wifi 2.4GHz for “safety” reasons, on the back of Sandy Hook, and knowing that RFID to improve attendance is a dead duck in the water, maybe the focus on perceived and totally unproven safety aspects of RFID at NSID may com into play – lets hope not.

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Green light to RFID track Oregon’s school children?

USA – Oregon Senate passed a bill on 11th June 2013 seemingly giving schools the right to impose RFID tracking on it’s students.  However HB2386 appears to have started life back in January 2013 with exactly the opposite intent, reading that:

HB2386Prohibits school district from requiring student to wear, carry or use any item with radio frequency identification device if device is used for purpose of locating or tracking student or taking attendance.

The original January 2013 wording goes on to say that a school may use RFID to track property, such as instruction manuals and electric items, but if a student takes possession of said property the school must inform the student that the property, therefore the student, is being tracked.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged members of the Oregon Senate to sign the bill stating that this “Common sense proposal is critical to protect the privacy of our students” with information being communicated transparently about the use and option to use RFID

What could possibly go wrong?

By June 2013 the wording and intent of the bill changed substantially, to read:

HB2386 “Directs State Board of Education to adopt standards for school district board to incorporate into any policy that requires student to wear, carry or use item with radio frequency identification device for purpose of locating or tracking student or taking attendance.

This rewriting of HB2386 seems to go on to say that a Oregon school district cannot require a student to wear RFID for tracking unless the Oregon State Board adopts standard rules about the use of RFID with children, as decided upon as in the above statement.  This appears to read that if a school wants to impose RFID tracking on students the State Board has to agree to it under (their own) standards/rules.  Informing a student of the fact they may be carrying a RFID tracked object has also been dropped from the wording of the original text.

…yet point 2 (c) states that the bill would allow for “…a student or a parent of a student to choose not to have the student wear, carry or use an item with a radio frequency identification device.” (?)  Can a student not consent when a school has required it to carry RFID tracking, backed by the State Board?  Is this another court case waiting to happen?

The bill takes effect as of July 2013.  The history of the bill going through the Oregon Senate is here.

Currently Oregon does not use RFID to track students in any of it’s schools, so maybe a little strange they have spent senate time on this bill.  But with other schools in the US introducing RFID for financial (funding according to attendance) and “safety” reasons, perhaps this comes as no surprise in that Oregon does not want a situation similar to the adverse publicity the Hernandez case in Texas brought to school boards RFID tracking students – better to set the ground rules first.

Oregon StateWith over 850,000 children in Oregon, with 550,000 K-12 students, there is a fairly healthy market for RFID systems with perhaps this bill giving a green light to the RFID industry that these schools are good to go.  

How sad that HB2386 has been changed with the potential to destroy children’s rights and civil liberties, when there was a great chance to preserve the next generation’s freedoms and our societies integrity in respecting our children’s privacy.

Corporate sponsoring of RFID GPS tracked children

A school district in Northern California is to start tracking children on and off schools buses via RFID and GPS technology.  The system is free to the district, taxpayers and parents with local businesses sponsoring the messages sent to parents phones to tell them their child is safe at school.

The company East Coast Diversified Corporation (ECDC), the parent group of StudentConnect, is enabling this RFID tracking technology to be financed using adverts sponsored by local businesses.

According to ECDC this tracking of children “creates a unique opportunity for businesses to demonstrate a policy of corporate responsibility toward student safety in communities they do business with“.  Advertisers can engage “the brand loyalty of parents out of appreciation for receiving safety notification regarding their children.”

This just sounds bizarre.  What shop would want to sponsor tracking a child?  Eroding that child’s privacy.  Are society’s ethics and morals to be discarded for “corporate responsibility” – trading safety messages about location tracking of our children in exchange to be advertised at?  Do we not trust the bus driver, schools and society to show a collective care for our youngest?

Yes, there are random acts of violence that defy logic or reason but when statistics are scrutinized both from the industry selling this technology and real risks that do exist, possible perceived scenarios – that involve compromising children rights more than they do protecting their safety – arise offering a financial solution to a situation that is not that urgent and disproportionate to the reported transport crisis.

There is money to be made in tracking children, that is for sure.

“Good morning.  Your child has arrived safely at school.  Oh, and by the way, your local hardware shop is offering 99% off sledge hammers to a crack nut with”

We should have more faith in society to care for our children collectively.  All members of society, community, family, corporate, faith based, all aspects should care for all.  We should not rely on a money driven system to take responsibility for our children, nor be led into believing that that is where responsibility lies.

Surely as a society, whatever country or community you live in, we should all take a part in looking out for each other and not be driven in this supposed care for our children from a financial incentive.

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”

RFID – Schools must “consult fully with parents and pupils”

There is no law against tracking people in the UK however in order to do so the person who is being tracked must give Data Protection Acttheir consent for the tracking to be legal.

In the UK Schedule 1 of the Data Protection Act 1988 (DPA) states that “Personal data shall be processed fairly and lawfully” .  One aspect of lawfully processing data is the area of consent, covered in Schedule 2 of the DPA.  The first point in Schedule 2 is that the Data Controller (the school) has to gain the consent of the Data Subject (the pupil) in order to process information about them. “The data subject has given his consent to the processing.”

Tracking children in education with a real time location system (RTLS) using RFID tags absolutely falls under this legislation.

An email received from the Department of Education states the following:

Thank you for your email of 1 January 2013 addressed to the Secretary of State, with enclosures, about the implications of the use of Radio Frequency Identification Technology.  I have been asked to reply. [Case Ref 2013/0000789]

As you will be aware, schools and colleges are Data Controllers in their own right, and as such, must comply with the data protection principles set out in the Data Protection Act 1998.  For example, the first data protection principle requires that personal data must be used fairly and lawfully and that one of the conditions in Schedule 2 to the Data Protection Act must be met.  These include: obtaining the consent of the data subject; compliance with legal obligations; performance of contractual obligations; and the processing being necessary for the purposes of legitimate interests of the data controller.  I understand from your email that you have also been in contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) and I would suggest that the ICO would be the appropriate body for advising on the particular case you have pursued.

As with the introduction of parallel systems such as CCTV, this Department would look to schools and colleges to consult fully with parents and pupils before implementing this kind of technology.

UK Department of Education – tracking children in education with RFID:

“…schools and colleges to consult fully with parents and pupils before implementing this kind of [RFID] technology“.

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.

Transparent RFID policy and consent

In January 2011 the EU document ‘Privacy and Data Protection Impact Assessment Framework for RFID Applications’ was published. The document is an industry-prepared framework for Personal Data and Privacy Impact Assessments of RFID Applications and endorsed by the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party.

RFID Privacy targets include “Compliance with the data subject’s right to object –  It must be ensured that the data subject’s data is no longer processed if he or she objects.” along with one of the concerns of the privacy risks being Invalidation of explicit consentConsent has been obtained under threat of disadvantage.” – see pages 13 and 15.   However, this EU document is only advisory and simply details good practice with no set enforcable regulated code of practice yet in place for RFID tracking people.

In a recent article it came to light that in the UK a 14-19 college, West Cheshire College, are using RFID tags for registration purposes but then oddly state the information the RFID give them will be anonymised.  Quite how they plan to register individual students with anonymised RFID tags is baffling but, more worryingly, the college seems to have adopted a ‘must wear’ attitude.

In order for students to be able to object, as detailed the above EU document, to this level of surveillance, where staff at educational establishments such as West Cheshire College are able to  “look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”, both students and staff tagged need to be fully informed of exactly what the RFID chips they carry are being used for. i.e. how and where people would be tracked and the personal information held.

rfidcctvsignThis communication of the college’s intent of RFID use to register its students and staff, and subsequent consent, presumably would need a little more than a verbal statement.  Indeed, a document detailing the college’s RFID policy and a Privacy Impact Assessment would surely be considered good practice.

Maybe an adoption of the CCTV industry’s code to inform persons of CCTV tracking by signage on walls in areas where surveillance is occurring should be considered where RFID real-time location systems are in operation?

This would go some way to ensure transparency for those choosing to carry RFID tags.