Category Archives: UHF RFID

Ultra wideband RFID tracking children in the UK – an invasion of privacy?

West Cheshire College and its tagging of students with active RFID was reported in the The Guardian’s article from 19th November 2013 ‘Is UK college’s RFID chip tracking of pupils an invasion of privacy?

RFID tracking at West Cheshire College taken from the video made of the system by the supplier, Zebra Technologies

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.

Parents of the students tagged with RFID at West Cheshire College had no knowledge their children were being tracked every second by an active RFID chip.  The college can provide no literature given to students about this and no privacy impact assessment was done.  The college can only “assume that information about RFID was also communicated verbally to studentsduring induction in which “the induction process is covered verbally with students”.

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 thesoftware 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.

So back to the question ‘Is UK college’s RFID chip tracking of pupils an invasion of privacy?‘ – most probably.  Here is the video of the system on Youtube – you decide.

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RFID Journal – People should remain at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) from a RFID reader/antenna

RFID reader definitionThe RFID Journal is one of the world’s foremost sources of RFID news globally and has reported positively on the benfits of RFID tagging children and teachers in schools with active RFID.   On the 4th November 2013 this question was asked on their ‘Ask the Experts Forum’ – Are there any health risks with prolonged exposure to ultra high frequency (UHF) radio frequency (RF) fields?  

Interesting then when Mark Roberti, the Founder and Editor of the RFID Journal, then advises in his response that:

people should remain at least 1 meter (3.3 feet) from a reader.


Really.  How is it okay for the RFID Journal to report 
positively about schools tagging children and teachers wearing ultra high frequency (UHF) active RFID tags, effectively endorsing the wearing of active RFID chips, when they also comment on the very potential health hazards of radio frequencies?

RFID Active definitionIn the USA Northside Independant School District RFID tagged their student population with active 433MHz RFID tags from 2012 until 2013.  In Germany students and teachers wear active RFID tags compatible with wifi 2.45GHz, in the US the same tag is being worn by teachers.  West Cheshire College students in the UK wore ultra wideband (UWB) active RFID tags around their neck in a lanyard, emitting a 6.35-6.75GHz radio frequency every second, from 2010 until 2013.  West Cheshire College admitted to viewing students in “peer groups” with their RFID real time location system  – so not just for registration or safety reasons then?

Daniel Engels, “Director of the University of Texas at Arlington‘s Radio Frequency Innovation and Technology Center, and an associate professor in the college’s Department of Electrical Engineering” was quoted in a previous RFID Journal article from June 2009 entitled ‘Can RFID be harmful to the human body‘ stated that:

“The basic result of all of our work is that really close proximity to UHF [ultrahigh-frequency] RFID readers  [antennas] has potential health issues”

Should we be tagging children and teachers with active RFID when the  International Agency for Research on Cancer/World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a possible carcinogen to humans, causing cancers and tumors?  Erm… I think that would be a no!

Maybe schools be prudent and ready themselves for possible litigation claims in the future…

RFID UHF definition   RFID Interrogater definition