Category Archives: Industry Standard

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.

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.

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.

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)

Student locators using ex-military 433MHz?

433MHz is the most used frequency on earth and is also the radio frequency used in John Jay High School, Texas, USA to track students on their premises.  The RFID tags worn emit a pulsed constant frequency and cannot be turned off by the students so effectively broadcast the student/tags whereabouts 24-7.  The tag works as an antenna and sensors around the school pick up the RFID (antenna) frequencies – this is an active RFID tag.  In fact sensors anywhere can pick up a tag’s radio frequencies.

433Mhz is ex-military – Savi, a company owned by Lockheed Martin, developed the 433MHz RFID technology (ISO18000-7 ratified in 2006) and have supplied homeland-security and port-related RFID security to the US military during the past decade.  According to the RFID Journal, “Savi RFID tags track assets in shipments throughout the world.  Its customers include the U.S. government, as well as NATO and other civil and defense agencies”.  Savi “has been the primary provider of active RFID solutions for the Department Of Defense, particularly in the agency’s In-Transit Visibility network, which monitors the movements of containers and products through the supply chain by means of 433 MHz active RFID tags, readers and software.”  and according to Mark Lieberman, the Automatic-Identification Technology (AIT) Program Manager at the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), “There was a time when Savi was the sole supplier of tags and infrastructure end items to DOD [Department of Defense].”

In January 2009 the US Department of Defense announced a $429 million RFID contract for DASH7 (ISO18000-7) devices, which was awarded to several companies.  From DASH7 Alliance wiki  “It was agreed that current self-certification of interoperability was insufficient [between the companies awarded the contract] and that a more formalized process for determining conformance with the ISO 18000-7 standard and interoperability across vendors was needed” – so Savi initialized the first meeting of DASH7 members in February 2009.  The DASH7 Alliance now has over 50 members including 7 universities and “offers such interoperability to standards bodies, Industry associations and related government entities in order to accelerate adoption and advance integration for the benefit of society.”  Benefiting society, of course… this technology did not benefit Andrea Hernandez when she chose not to use it and be tracked by a 433 RFID tag in school.  433MHz occupies the ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Medical) radio band, reserved internationally generally for unlicensed use, therefore free to use.  With this, 433 frequency now finds itself firmly embedded in public domestic society.

Is it wrong to say 433MHz is ex-military?  ‘Ex’ implying no longer used.  It is probably more accurate to say 433 is from the military.  There are presumably military sensors all around the US for their In-Transit Visibility Network and the same frequency is used increasingly for schools student location, credit cards, agricultural, biomedical, door (garage) openers and wireless alarm systems to name a few.

The features of 433MHz can be up to “range of up to 2 km, indoor location with 1 meter accuracy,”. Whether or not key fobs and student locator RFID have this 2 km range or that student RFID tags are being tracked by government sensors across the country, we need to bear in mind that this technology is invisible and a constant, subconscious interaction with wireless technology is happening when we use it.

The age of ubiquitous technologies is upon us.

When we have an item that ‘magically’ interacts with other pieces of technology maybe we need to start asking what it is we carry – and hopefully trust that we are being given the right answer.

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.

Real time tracking more enabled by new industry standard

The recently approved standard in February 2012 from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) IEEE 802.15.4f enabled Zebra Technologies to develop RFID tags, sold to West Cheshire College for tracking its students.

As reported in the RFID Journal, [NB. This RFID Journal article was withdrawn from the RFID Journal’s website w/c 7 Jan 2013.  A Copy of the article (pdf) is here and here is the original article on the Internet Archieve Wayback MachineZebra “In anticipation of that development [IEEE 802.15f], Zebra Technologies has announced a new version of its Dart ultra-wideband (UWB) real-time location system (RTLS) sensor that will be compatible with that standard

With no regulations of the tracking of humans – students in this case – by RFID in the UK it seems that students at least, as education becomes more corporate and finance driven, have this real time location system tracking to look forward to.

Much like how biometrics were trialed and introduced in schools in the UK from 2001-2012, completely unregulated, not informing parents, government having no knowledge of what the biometric industry was up to in its schools, it appears that RTLS RFID now is being afforded the same luxury.

According to the RFID Journal  [NB. This RFID Journal article was withdrawn from the RFID Journal’s website w/c 7 Jan 2013.  A Copy of the article (pdf) is here and here is the original article on the Internet Archieve Wayback Machinethese are the characteristics of RFID tags the students wear:

  • UWB tags emit brief RF signals across the entire 6.35 to 6.75 GHz frequency band.
  • Average battery lifespan of a tag is seven years.
  • Receivers, which can receive tag signals from up to 328 feet away, 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.  (Toilet? Showers?)
  • Designed to provide accuracy greater than 1 meter (3.3 feet).
  • Transmission rate of once per second.
  • Enables observation of student and staff in peer groups.

The standard IEEE 802.15f was approved February 2012.  RFID Journal article of 30 April 2012 states that “The school deployed the technology in two phases—first at its Chester Campus, in 2010, and then at its newly built Ellesmere Port Campus, last year [2011]”

…mmm has the college been trialing RTLS before the standard was set?