Category Archives: RTLS

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.

RFID Wifi tags for teachers in the wake of Sandy Hook

Wifi tags percieved terror

In the age of perceived terrorism that we live in, it seems that technology offers our children safety in a school environment.

Skyview High School‘s Mandy Petty, a school counselor, commented, “Look at what we spend to protect our banks, our cars, our homes. When do we start protecting our kids and what is the dollar value to that?”  The question is protecting our kids against what?

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings, Ekahau, a company that supplies active RFID tags to the medical industry to track hospital equipment, has now supplied a school with active RFID tags that enables teachers to communicate with the local police department as soon as a terror threat happens, medical emergency or simply “to get help with a student that may be unruly“.  Ekahau have already supplied this RFID to staff and students to a school in Germany after a shooting incident.

At the moment only the teachers are wearing the wifi enabled RFID tags; how long will it be until the children will be wearing them too and normalized into using privacy intrusive technology for ‘safety’?  The intent behind this use of  RFID is admirable but with this application of RFID, that gives the police a real time eye into the school, it has the potential to lull in a false sense of security, when practically any person deciding to wield a firearm anywhere cannot be predicted or stopped if they are determined to cause harm.

Terrorism should not be used as an excuse to “dollar value” our rights to privacy.  These shootings are terrible and the perpetrators, whoever they are, should be brought to justice.  Thankfully the chances of dying from a bee sting are greater than that of dying from an act of terrorism.

Let’s hope that this school never has to use this RFID for the extremely slim chance that a random shooter may visit them, though I suspect the technology will be put to good use for other reasons – not terrorism.

“The badge has only been in use for two weeks and some say they can’t imagine not having it.

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)

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”

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.

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.

RFID *not* used to track students …honest guv

Active RFID “…not used for tracking of individual students.”  which was West Cheshire College’s reply to a Freedom Of Information Request in December 2012.  (Really?)

This is how West Cheshire College *don’t track* individual students (see page 20)  – from their employee Kevin Francis’s presentation when he visited Disneyland, Florida, in April 2012 to lecture the RFID industry on the Real Time Location Tracking system in place for students at the college.

K Francis presentation April 2021