Tag Archives: consent

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.

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.

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.

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“.