Category Archives: RTLS

The agenda to RFID track your child, giving away free chips

In November 2015 Richmond Sausages, a subsidiary of Kerry Foods, spent £3 million on an ongoing campaign to distribute 200,000 Bluetooth tracking chips, free RFID chips, to be claimed via packs of sausages. The aim of the Sausage and Chip campaign is to make meals times less stressful if a children’s toy, teddy, has gone missing… and this would sell their sausages why?

I have to say as a parent myself a child losing a toy at meal time (whether or not sausages are present) has never been an issue and I can never recall any conversation with another parent where losing a toy has been an issue, especially at meal times.

The company supplying the Bluetooth GPS chip is a company called B-on who lists the Amigo watch, for tracking children, amongst its three products. The watch can set up geo-fencing ‘safe-zones’ incorporating a pedometer to track your child’s activity.

B-on also supplies other tracking devices for adults, health monitoring and fitness tracking. Having said that I cannot find the Amigo Watch for sale anywhere online. Apart from a few articles published last year by Wired and TechCrunch the Amigo Watch has virtually no online presence apart from the B-on website where there is no facility to buy.

Maybe the Amigo watch never got off the ground and the company now has to give away their product in another form because there is no market for it? Perhaps B-on made a few hundred thousand watches that haven’t sold, and to lure the unsuspecting public into using a tracking product… ‘needing’ a tracking product, they have ‘repackaged’ the watches into tracking chips to hang round a child’s loved toy.

It is a nudge, especially for a young child. The message? RFID tag the stuff we love.

You can imagine the conversation “…but why don’t you tag me Mummy? You love me as much as I love Teddy don’t you?”. Clever.

So why would Richmond, a sausage manufacturer, spend millions of pounds giving away free RFID tracking devices essentially aimed at children? Splashing out £3million is a hefty amount of profit margin from sausages sales to recoup, plus 200,000 RFID tracking chips. It just seems odd?

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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.

4 mile tracking RFID to be piloted on children in US school distict

The RFID Journal reports that a company in California, Iotera, is developing a 900MHz RFID tag that has a 4 mile range and that “a school district will use it to track students arriving on campus or traveling to and from school“.  Rather than just being able to track students on campus this new geographical tracking takes tagging children one step further.
Iotera child case study
Iotera have visions of smart cities with the Internet of Things (IoT) long-range “sensors to increase safety and efficiency” – in this company’s eyes this involves tagging humans.

The figures on how dangerous it is for children attending school are unknown but it seems that participating in the activity of schooling is relatively safe otherwise why would governments insist children attend school and parents willingly send them?  There is inherent risk in all activities humans do and carrying RFID chips, emitting frequencies that have unquantifiable health effects and “smart”ing cities up, bathing us all in electrosmog does not sound any safer than the situation we have now – where children are free of RFID tags.

With the possible risk to health of carrying emitting RFID and the added risk of other people tracking RFID tags that children carry, by hacking into their RFID emitting signal, the “increase safety” that Iotera claim is disputable.

But yet again we see the next generation via school being conditioned to use technology and be advised it is for their safety/convenience and learn that it is perfecting acceptable for others to track their whereabouts.  Apart from the risks mentioned above associated with carrying RFID technology, a recent article by Slyck NewsStudent Monitoring by Schools, is it Really Necessary or Far Too Controlling?” addresses the glaring privacy issues that surveilling the next generation raises.

With companies gearing up for the Internet of Things another company DecaWave also are preparing themselves with ultra wideband (UWB) RFID chips to monitor humans, stating that “children and infirm adults will be monitored for their safety and security“.  Their website goes on to say:  “And in the future, DecaWave’s chip will be incorporated into cell phones, tablets, and other mobile devices not yet thought of, to interact with our surroundings in ways not yet imagined.”

Many will embrace this ubiquitous living as convenient but as our privacy quickly becomes eroded so does the erosion of any form of freedom to protest against corrupt systems.  Do we have a right to refuse to use or would our anomalous behaviour flag us up non compliant citizens?

A child consenting to be tracked should be given a choice, and what about the parents right to know who is tracking their children?

Against RFID in schools

Tracking capabilities as shown in their supplier’s video ‘Optimizing the Learning Experience with a Zebra Tracking Solution”

When a UK college recently used a RFID real time location system to track students on their campuses in Chester and Ellesmere Port from 2010 – 2013.  Apart from whoever thought this was a good idea somewhere in the tiers of the college management, how did the college manage to persuade the thousands of students it tracked, that this was a good idea too?  How did the students consent to staff being able to “… look at them [students and staff] in groups, such as peer groups.”  Locations being seen in, possibly toilets, showers, school nurse, etc?

In a reply to a Freedom of Information request, this is how the college gained fully informed consent – apparently “Information relating to the RFID tags and their purpose was covered during College induction/ enrolment.”

When pressed further on this consent gaining process the college refuses to answer questions.  Only when the Information Commissioner’s Office intervenes it is revealed quite how the college considers meaningful consent is gained from students to be tracked by an RFID tag ‘bleeping’ it’s whereabouts every second“we can confirm that the induction process is covered verbally with students. It is fair to assume that information about RFID was also communicated verbally to students”.

Erm, is that consent?

The college refused to answer a Freedom of Information request, December 2012, and upon an internal review *still* could not answer one question, which was a simply yes/no answer, as to whether or not staff were RFID tagged – astonishing.  Yet when pressed by the Information Commissioner’s Office, in July 2013 (full report here) the college replied, ‘staff badge tags remained inactive and were not in active use for any purpose. Staff who had a RFID badge for first aid purposes also had inactive badges’  (why would staff carry an inactive RFID for first aid? and why not state that initially?)

RTLS Mapping West Cheshire College

It’s difficult to see what is happening here – either a shocking inability of knowledge or lack of awareness of  responsibility to answer basic questions under the Freedom of Information Act.  But when children are tracked in this manner, literally their every move with the potential to be scrutinized, there should be absolute transparency.

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

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.

Yet another bill flipped in favour of tagging kids with RFID?

Missouri HB239 ammended

HB239 was introduced to Missouri senate in January 2013 by Senator Ed Emery stating:
“No school district shall require a student to use an identification device that uses radio frequency identification, or similar technology, to identify the student, transmit information regarding the student, or monitor or track the student” now has an amendment by Senator Curls, in April 2013, that reads:
technology, or similar technology, unless such identification device is used solely for the purposes of student safety or student security.”

Given how Oregon’s HB2386 was flipped from not tagging children with RFID to the bill endorsing the RFID tagging of children, maybe this is how legislature will trend with RFID tracking children in the USA.

On the back of the Sandy Hook massacre, Ekahau, via Rapid Emergency Response, supplies wfif RFID to Skyview High School and is marketing its RFID to schools on the back of this Delaware bill, HB33, requiring each public school to have panic buttons.

RFID in Northside Independent School District, NISD, in San Antonio was scrapped last week as it did not improve attendance – a valuable lesson for the RFID industry.  Dangling the carrot of increased funding for NISD on the back of promised improved student attendance was attractive enough for the school district to buy into RFID but when the technology did not deliver it was rightly scrapped.

The next round of RFID will be marketed at schools selling us increased student safety.  As the Skyview High School RFID vendor’s Rapid Emergency Response website states, “we spend billions as a nation protecting our banks, cars and homes. When will we do the same for our children?”  A good question indeed from a company selling RFID systems to schools.
What is the cost of our children’s privacy, that we are willing to sell for their security?