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.”
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.
Many 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.
RFID tracking pupils at West Cheshire College taken from the video made of the system by the supplier, Zebra Technologies
It is only an invasion of privacy if one is fully aware of being tracked. If the data subject is blissfully unaware of the ubiquitous technology it carries, then there is an ignorance of the invasion of privacy the RFID tag is perpetrating.
An adult pops a RFID tag round a child’s neck and assumes that this second by second tracking was communicated effectively, verbally during an induction? The fact that not one student or parent objected to this rings warning bells.
Did no intelligent thinking adult at the college think that possibly, just quite possibly, that verbally informing students about electronically tagging them may bring up issues of consent from a minor and that perhaps this level of communication may leave the college vulnerable to criticism and, at the very worst, possible litigation. And did no one there consider that electronically RFID tagging another human and viewing their location in real time is compromising their privacy, maybe even just a tiddy-widdy bit?
Apart from the invasive intrusion of an adult peering into where children are – who they hang out with, when they are visiting the toilet, shower, school nurse – no privacy checks or advice from Department for Education, Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), Children’s Commissioner or any legal body (see question 1 and 2) was undertaken by the college.
On top of the lack of regard to procedures concerning consent and privacy considerations, the college did not know when they started RFID tagging the children. Really? – yes really. Asked about when they started RFID tagging children, under a Freedom of Information Act request, the college replied that no information was held on this at all. As this was a fairly surprising answer from the college, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) who oversees the Freedom of Information Act, was asked to intervene. Indeed, amazingly, West Cheshire College also confirmed to the ICO that they really did not (honest guv) have any information about when they started RFID tagging children there.
Bearing in mind that lying under the Freedom of Information Act is an offence and that “A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to a fine“, we must take these answers from the college as gospel.
The Guardian article failed to mention cost which came in at £1,050,242 (ex VAT). Over a million pounds of public money spent on a RFID human tracking system that there is no information about and that the college has now scrapped due to the “software would not communicate effectively to the current register system” and “escalating costs“. A million pound spent on a RFID system the college cannot not even recall when implemented?
What an amazing, jawdropping sequence of events. This could almost be made into the perfect example of a ‘what not to do when RFID tagging children in education’ handbook. A truely epic fail.
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.
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:
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:
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.
With 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.
There is no law against tracking people in the UK however in order to do so the person who is being tracked must give their 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.
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“.
Article – Biometrics and RFID tracking in UK Education
Documenting the rise of biometric and RFID technology used in education
Book – Surveillance Schools
With the growth of surveillance technologies globally, Dr Emmeline Taylor focuses on the phenomenon of the Surveillance School and explores the impact that continual monitoring is having upon school children, education and society.
433MHz military capabilities of tracking students
Interview with Katherine Albrecht, technology and privacy in schools
Katherine Albrecht show - July 2013. Katherine and Pippa King discuss the victories in removing or preventing biometric and other tracking systems from being used on our children.
Interview: Biometrics & RFID in schools, 433Mhz
Interview with Pippa King by Tony Gosling from BCFM - August 2013