Tag Archives: industry standard

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.

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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.

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.

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?