Category Archives: Ethical

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.

RFID make kids safer apparently

Over the summer break some schools in the US have treated themselves to RFID location systems, one school district seems to have excelled itself in the level of intrusion of it’s students while other schools it seems are only tagging staff with RFID using the school’s existing wifi.

Here in the UK we had one college, West Cheshire College, that looked at using active RFID over it’s existing wifi to track students, staff and assets but found that using an ultra wideband RFID, tagging 5,500 students, saved them $400,000 – $600,000 – that’s a lot of money.  However wifi based RFID is being used in the US to track staff, not students yet, at very aptly named schools called Skyview and Grandview.  A third school to use the active RFID using wifi is Patrick Henry School in Virginia.  Patrick Henry was a brilliant orator and a major figure of the American Revolution – best known for his quote “Give me liberty or give me death“.

Liberty – the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s behaviour or political views.

give_me_liberty_1Is liberty compromised by RFID tagging and tracking humans, in this case children, with authority knowing your every move, behaviors and peer group association?   In the case of Belleville Public School District in New Jersey it seems liberty certainly may be compromised here.   As reported in the RFID Journal the school district is “implementing an active radio frequency identification [RFID] solution to locate students and faculty members within its schools, as well as students on its 21 buses… cameras with built-in analytic software, and a new phone system—as well as the posting of armed officers and a new director of security”.  Is is that dangerous being at school?  That sort of security is only afforded to inmates in prison but the technology in prisons is in place to stop people from getting out whereas at school it is there to stop people from getting in (with a massive added bonus of vast data harvesting).

Is it worth sacrificing privacy and liberty for this perceived improvement of safety as the above examples in the US cite?  And at what point does society put it’s foot down and say enough, we need our privacy.  It is doubtful the next generation will do that, being normalised to this high level of surveillance from school.

Patrick Henry Quote

New Jersey schools using person-tracking cameras, RFID and geo-tracking for students

Martin Okun,  Clarity Technologies Group

Martin J. Okun, Vice President of Security & Life Safety at Clarity Technologies Group

“As we see more and more violence in schools every day, we strive to find ways for our children to learn without fearing for their own safety,” Clarity Vice President Martin Okun.  Okun believes the security measures will a model for other districts concerned about security.

(If schools are that dangerous, more dangerous it seems than any other area of society, perhaps the simple solution is not to go to school and home educate.)

Person-tracking cameras, geo-tracking throughout building facilitates including transport, electronic access control, armed law enforcement and RFID tagging the occupants.  Sound like a prison or high security military base?  No.

This is a school district in New Jersey and this is Belleville School District’s reaction to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, Newtown, Connecticut as reported in NorthJersey.com and Belleville-Nutley Patch.

Belleville School District seem to be the first school in the US, and possibly globally, to utilize cameras to tracking people in an educational environment.  The only hi-tech surveillance technology missing here is biometrics but actually the above surveillance just about covers the complete erosion of students privacy in this instance.

According to the Belleville-Nutley Parch, Clarity Technologies Group are supplying the RFID – and the person-tracking camera system to be used on the students is demonstrated in this Clarity Technologies Youtube clip:

…”more and more violence in schools every day” as Martin Okun states.  Maybe the root of this violence should be addressed rather than trying to use technology as a sticking plaster to cover over the more serious issue of criminal disturbance in schools, rather than the student population have to be subjected to such invasive surveillance .

Maybe there are a few of issues at play here.  Are schools that dangerous?  Or is another ‘education’ taking place?  Perhaps this is even a good opportunity to road test a new technology on a student population?

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.

MPs to have Biometric attendance and RFID tags?

RFID-Cattle-tag-parliament

Quite how RFID tagging MPs will miraculously make them attend the South African Parliament is baffling.  I suppose it will log them in and out of buildings and rooms but so then can a swipe card or pin.  Apparently Parliament has proposed a combination of two technologies – radio frequency identification (RFID) and biometrics (fingerprint) – to monitor the attendance of Members of Parliament at sittings of the houses of parliament and committee meetings.”

Not that I would like to see any human tagged, or using biometrics to prove their whereabouts in relation to the RFID chip, but find that one comment interesting from the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance who is against the proposal:

“DA chief whip, “Watty” Watson said the DA caucus rejected the idea, saying that its MPs are not sheep or cattle. “We are senior citizens who have been elected to Parliament by the people of SA and for us to be treated like sheep or cattle being counted is unacceptable,” he said.”

Perhaps refusal to wear the chip would result in expulsion from the South African Parliament much like Andrea Hernandez was expelled from John Jay High School in San Antonio for refusing to wear a RFID tag?  But then supposing the proposal goes ahead and South African MPs lead by example carrying RFID tags to monitor whereabouts, does this then set the standard for the rest of the population?

Strange, opposed as I am to RFID tracking humans I do find the notion of using a RFID Real Time Location System to tag MP’s and making their whereabouts in Parliament public to us all, who they associate with, meetings attended, actually quite an attractive proposal.  On the other hand I’d like to think that I trust my represented Member of Parliament enough not to tag them (though for me the recent behavior of some UK politicians has eroded that trust).  Personally if I did feel the need to RFID tag my MP to see where they were, then the wrong person is in parliament representing me.

If we get to the point where we RFID tag other human beings, what does that say about trust and the standards of our society?

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.

RFID Protest, San Antonio, USA

Texas, USA – From We Are Change San Anotonio featuring a couple more students who have decided to reject John Jay High School’s RFID system.

Steven Loredo, is the student who wrote a newpaper article for the school magazine about Andrea Hernandez and was suspended for a few days to trying to publish his story. Here he goes into more detail of how the school treated him.

These students should be applauded for having their own points of view and being brave enough to voice them – not prejudiced against for refusing to comply with the school’s RFID system.

The school’s behaviour sets a dangerous precident of discrimination.