Tag Archives: consent

Green light to RFID track Oregon’s school children?

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:

HB2386Prohibits school district from requiring student to wear, carry or use any item with radio frequency identification device if device is used for purpose of locating or tracking student or taking attendance.

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:

HB2386 “Directs State Board of Education to adopt standards for school district board to incorporate into any policy that requires student to wear, carry or use item with radio frequency identification device for purpose of locating or tracking student or taking attendance.

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.

Oregon StateWith 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.

Advertisements

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”

RFID – Schools must “consult fully with parents and pupils”

There is no law against tracking people in the UK however in order to do so the person who is being tracked must give Data Protection Acttheir 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.

An email received from the Department of Education states the following:

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“.

Transparent RFID policy and consent

In January 2011 the EU document ‘Privacy and Data Protection Impact Assessment Framework for RFID Applications’ was published. The document is an industry-prepared framework for Personal Data and Privacy Impact Assessments of RFID Applications and endorsed by the Article 29 Data Protection Working Party.

RFID Privacy targets include “Compliance with the data subject’s right to object –  It must be ensured that the data subject’s data is no longer processed if he or she objects.” along with one of the concerns of the privacy risks being Invalidation of explicit consentConsent has been obtained under threat of disadvantage.” – see pages 13 and 15.   However, this EU document is only advisory and simply details good practice with no set enforcable regulated code of practice yet in place for RFID tracking people.

In a recent article it came to light that in the UK a 14-19 college, West Cheshire College, are using RFID tags for registration purposes but then oddly state the information the RFID give them will be anonymised.  Quite how they plan to register individual students with anonymised RFID tags is baffling but, more worryingly, the college seems to have adopted a ‘must wear’ attitude.

In order for students to be able to object, as detailed the above EU document, to this level of surveillance, where staff at educational establishments such as West Cheshire College are able to  “look at them in groups, such as peer groups.”, both students and staff tagged need to be fully informed of exactly what the RFID chips they carry are being used for. i.e. how and where people would be tracked and the personal information held.

rfidcctvsignThis communication of the college’s intent of RFID use to register its students and staff, and subsequent consent, presumably would need a little more than a verbal statement.  Indeed, a document detailing the college’s RFID policy and a Privacy Impact Assessment would surely be considered good practice.

Maybe an adoption of the CCTV industry’s code to inform persons of CCTV tracking by signage on walls in areas where surveillance is occurring should be considered where RFID real-time location systems are in operation?

This would go some way to ensure transparency for those choosing to carry RFID tags.

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.