Category Archives: UK

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

Video of RFID Real Time Location System in UK college

West Cheshire College, UK, have active RFID chips in students lanyards for a registration and building management Real Time Location System that enables the college to pinpoint the students precise position on the premises.

This location system enables the college to search for students and staff “in groups, such as peer groups.”  It is unclear whether students are tracked to personally sensitive areas, such as showers, school nurse, etc.
Against RFID in schoolsHere is a short 2 minute promotional video of the RFID system, thought to be the first of its kind used in education in the UK.
http://www.zebra.com/us/en/solutions/research-and-learn/success-stories/westchesire-college.html (Zebra Technologies have removed this link from their site, March 2013 and a copy of it can be found here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=orPLM0C0nmU.  West Cheshire College claimed this infringes copyright and has been removed from Youtube and again on Vimeo)

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.

RFID Journal pulls article on UK college RFID tracking students

After four recent Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to West Cheshire College about their RFID real time location system (RTLS) the college answered the first FOI request, though some detail was lacking, and replied to the second Freedom of Information request informing that there would be no answer from them as there “has not been a reasonable interval since your initial request”

Freedom of Information Act 2000Erm… there is no exemption in the Freedom of Information Act 2000 that mentions time period between FOI requests.  Maybe West Cheshire College should let a member of staff who is knowledgable about their legal obligation under the Freedom of Information Act deal with FOI requests  – not their Press Office who wrote the refusal to reply.

Coincidentally within a 24 hour period of West Cheshire College’s refusal to answer FOI requests, the article in the RFID Journal ‘West Cheshire College Tracks Whereabouts of Students, Staff,’ that details the RFID system the college uses was pulled from the internet.  (A pdf of the article can be found here)

This was one of only two source articles which detail West Cheshire College’s RFID system.  The other article is on the suppliers website, Zebra Technologies.

Maybe its a wild coincidence but it seems that there is clamp down of what exactly is going on at West Cheshire College.

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?

UK students “must wear” RFID tags

In West Cheshire College, Cheshire UK, Students [are] made to carry ‘Orwellian’ locater tags – College staff and students have been issued with compulsory electronic badges that are capable of tracking their movements, leading to criticism of “Orwellian” tactics.”

How exactly does an establishment implement compulsory RFID tagging and still give the persons being tagged an option to consent?
RFIDconsent
If such a RFID tagging scheme can be compulsory and written consent is not gained from students what is to stop colleges and schools issuing RFID tags and not informing students? If a system is compulsory, presumably there is no room for non participants therefore no room for people to be able to make a choice in this matter, i.e. to consent.

Are persons not consenting then to write and ‘opt out’ of the RFID real time location system?  Perhaps we in the UK are to see a repeat of the much criticised line the educational establishments took with taking children’s biometrics without parental consent, deemed to be such bad practice that parental consent is now needed by law for schools to take and process children’s biometrics up to the age of 18.  This law is contained in the recent Protection Of Freedoms Act  2012.  West Cheshire College caters for pupils 14-19 year olds.

Then there is the issue of possible discrimination that could accompany a “must wear” policy the college has for those not wearing RFID tags.

Certainly as a parent I would want to know exactly who was watching my under 18 child at college in real time and why and where would they be monitoring their movements, to the toilet, school showers?   And I would not be happy with any discrimination my child may experience by not being RFID tagged, if indeed the college would enrol or employ a person refusing to wear RFID.

Just what are the college looking at?   In the RFID Journal, Kevin Francis, West Cheshire College’s Building Services Area Manager, states: We can search for individual [students or staff]. And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”  [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 Machine] Then to the Telegraph: “We do have these tags, but they’re not for the purposes of tracking.”

Erm, yes they are.  RFID tags track.  Why else would West Cheshire College purchase a RFID ‘real time location tracking solution’?  [ NBZebra Technologies withdrew the article from their website late February/early March 2013. A copy of the press release (pdf) is here  and this is the Internet Archive Wayback Machine’s link to the original webpage]

Then comes the sell.  Environmental – “The aim is to use the buildings as efficiently as possible.”  Security – “We are interested in teaching and learning, building use and the security of
students and staff.”… oh yes and here comes safety – “Staff with first aid training can be identified if needed in an emergency.” and not to forget funding – “we use this information for funding purposes”.  There we go.

The use of RFID may be about many issues but the issue surrounding consent, both for pupils, parents and staff, here is the most serious.

How can a compulsory RFID tracking scheme involve consent?

“And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”

According to an article from April 2012 in 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 Machine] West Cheshire College are RFID tracking 5,500 full-time students and have been doing so since 2010.

After the opening of its new campus at Ellesmere Port, Liverpool, the college “has successfully implemented Zebra’s real time location tracking solution with the ability to track and increase the visibility of 20,000 students across its two campuses” states Zebra Technologies, the US company who supplies the RFID tracking system.

Kevin Francis, West Cheshire College’s Building Services Area Manager, uses an interesting choice of language on Zebra Technologies website  [ NBZebra Technologies withdrew the article from their website late February/early March 2013. A copy of the press release (pdf) is here  and this is Internet Archive Wayback Machine’s link to the original webpage] to describe the college’s reasons for buying the technology – using the terms “asset tracking”  and  “optimizing our learning resources.” (referring to the students presumably?) with “specialist location solution capabilities” .  Are these phrases we may be hearing more of as other schools follow suit?

This all boils down to funding, states the RFID Journal :

“…the school also plans to utilize the RTLS [Real Time Location System] solution to reliably, quickly and accurately track student attendance, and to document that each student’s attendance record matches the actual number of hours for which the college receives funding (a process that is currently manual and time-consuming).”

It could be argued that an alternative method, other than RFID tagging students, could be found that would not be manual and time consuming.  An alternative, less invasive attendance system could be implemented, one that does not involve the college’s knowledge of each students every move.

The accurate attendance of students and the financial rewards that may reap from RFID tracking pupils is not the college’s only reason for locating the students and staff in real time, as Kevin Francis states to the RFID Journal:

Francis says this software will provide “reports if [students or staff] are leaving early,” stating,
“We can search for individual [students or staff]. And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”  (Why?)

The privacy implications for the use of RFID technology constantly tracking a persons every move are massive, possibly insidious and very much open to abuse.  Clearly, as stated by Kevin Francis in the RFID Journal’s article, West Cheshire College will not just be monitoring attendance levels but will also be looking at individual associations.  The technology will reveal where students are with Real Time Location Systems.

How will this affect student and staff behaviour?  Trips to the toilet – been there too long?  Too many visits to a school nurse?  Student/staff relationship?  Students relationships?  Who has access to this information?

This RFID technology tracking humans in real time certainly raises more questions, than solutions it provides.