WEST CHESHIRE COLLEGE RFID
West Cheshire College were RFID tagging students viewing them in real time, from 2010 until 2013 with a new type of RFID, ultra wideband (UWB) active RFID pulsing every second, for a range of 100 meters, at 6.35-6.75GHz. Giving the people tracking students an ability to see each child to within an accuracy of up to one meter moving in real time on a screen monitor.
- 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.
After a serious of Freedom of Information requests questions to the college, the college refused to answer questions on consent, they simply informed the students at enrolment and refused expand on that. Not one student out of the 1000’s tagged refused or parents refused. There is no mention on the college’s website of the use of RFID to track each student.
West Cheshire College (WCC) comprises of two campuses and got funding from the then Learning Skills Council to re-build its existing college and build a new one at Ellesmere port. Building work started at West Cheshire College in 2009. The contract was awarded to BAM Construction who, according to WCC in a FOIR reply, about the UWB RFID, stated
“The College appointed BAM Construction UK Limited in April 2009 to build the two new campus developments.” When asked under FOIR about RFID “We would direct you to BAM ConstructionUK Ltd. for information regarding discussions with their subcontractors.”
BAM subcontracted Honeywell to “install an integrated building management (BMS) solution” which included “access control and RFID tagging to monitor productivity and movements of both students and lecturers. Wireless tracking of students enables automatic registration, providing accurate data, such as attendance figures, to help manage the business effectively.” Here is Honeywell’s PDF on their work done at the college.
This system was implemented in a unorthodox fashion in a Capital Projects Committee meeting on 23rd July 2010. In the meeting board members of WCC expressed ‘dissatisfaction’ and ‘concern’ , they felt they had been ‘bounced’ into making a decision on this UWB RFID there and then with no prior notice given about the UWB RFID.
July 23rd – Capital Projects Committee discusses the UWB RFID real time location system. Via FOIR – “Other than the meeting on 23rd July 2010, there are no specific minutes discussing the use of RTLS”
September – West Cheshire College campus opens and students and high value items are tagged with active RFID. The college refused to answer a FOIR if staff were using RFID.
October – Honeywell subcontracted/worked with Zebra Technologies to integrate RFID into West Cheshire College 2 campuses
Ellesmere Port campus opened. Students use UWB RFID tags there.
February – ‘On February 6, 2012 the IEEE Standards Association Board approved the IEEE 802.15.4f Active RFID System Standard document for publication. The approximate publication date of the IEEE 802.15.4f Active RFID System standard is on or about March 28, 2012.’ IEEE802.15 Task Group
Tim Harrington, the then Vice President of Zebra Technologies, was the Vice Chair and Technical Editor of the IEEE Task Group working on the new industry standard of the UWB RFID, IEEE802.15.4f, the students were wearing in West Cheshire College and had been wearing since 2010.
March – West Cheshire College’s employee, Kevin Francis, visited the RFID Journal LIVE international conference in Orlando Florida to talk about the Return on Investment, ROI, the active RFID tagging of students had been for the college. A copy of which still survives on the RFID Journal’s website.
April – the RFID Journal ran an article ‘West Cheshire College Tracks Whereabouts of Students, Staff” about the groundbreaking use of UWB RFID to track the students at West Cheshire College quoting Kevin Francis, the College’s Building Services Area Manager, as saying
“We can search for individual [students or staff]. And we can look at them in groups, such as peer groups.“
April – Zebra Technologies issue a press release ‘West Cheshire First to use location technology’
September – WCC officially start trialing the registration system (after the student had been wearing the tags for two years).
December – Freedom of information Request sent to WCC about the RFID use. WCC replied that the RFID is “used for automatic registration of of students” but that “The technology is not used for tracking of individual students”. WCC also replied that “All full-time students (2000) were issued with RFID tags”. In fact part time day release students were tagged also, a parent got in touch whose 14 year old son was tagged. With regards to how the students were informed about the RFID the college stated simply:
“Information relating to the RFID tags and their purpose was covered during College induction/ enrolment.”
January – Two more FOIRs sent to WCC. Both of which were partially successful.
Detail and characteristics of RFID use in West Cheshire College
Information gathered and stored by RFID tags at West Cheshire College
RFID Journal article withdraws the article West Cheshire College Tracks Whereabouts of Students, Staff” from their website.
Late January/early February – Zebra Technologies withdraws their press release ‘West Cheshire First to use location technology’ from their website.
February 13th – Student RFID tags were switched off. Via FOIR – The Acting Principal in consultation with the Area Manager College Services decided this. However there are no written documents on record regarding the decision.
February 26th – Sun journalist rings WCC to ask about their use of RFID with the students. The journalist is informed that the student tags were turned off.
February 28th – Sara Mogel, Chief Executive and Principle, leaves WCC.
Late February/early March – Zebra technologies withdraws their promotional video “Optimizing the learning experience with a Zebra Location System” from their website. However it can be viewed here.
October 29th – At a meeting of the College’s Senior Leadership Team the RFID system was ceased completely, this includes the tagging of high value items.
November 19th – The Guardian ran an article “Is UK college’s RFID chip tracking of pupils an invasion of privacy?”
November – WCC replies to FOIR sent Jan 2013, after instruction by the Information Commissioner’s Office to answer (who oversees the UK Freedom of Information Act) of the UWB RFID system costs:
“The College has incurred the following costs (excluding VAT) that are directly related to RFID:
· Additional infrastructural works to accommodate UWB: £562,912
· Software licence for UWB: £235,294
· Installation of UWB: £17,852
· Cost of 6000 Zebra tags: £162,271
· Software licence for Registers interface: £71,913
There are no on-going yearly maintenance or licencing costs.”
February – Tom Watson MP asked written questions about the RFID at WCC
February 4th – Hansard record here.
Mr Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education (1) what guidance his Department has issued to (a) schools and (b)local authorities on the use of radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) with a Real Time Location System (RTLS) in schools for (i) tracking children and (ii) tagging equipment; if he will place in the Library a copy of such guidance; and if he will make a statement; (2) what (a) discussions and (b) correspondence his Department has had with the Information Commissioner’s office on the compatibility of radio-frequency identification technology with a Real Time Location System in schools and the Data Protection Act 1988 in the last three years.
Elizabeth Truss: The Department for Education has not issued guidance or made contact with the Information Commissioner’s Office on the use of radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) with a Real Time Location System (RTLS) in schools.
February 6th – Hansard record here:
Mr Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education whether his Department has reviewed the use of radio frequency identification technology with a real-time location system at UK West Cheshire College in Chester; and if he will make a statement.
Elizabeth Truss: The use of radio frequency identification technology with a real time location system is a matter for the college.
February 10th – Hansard record here:
Mr Watson: To ask the Secretary of State for Education if he will place in the Library copies of all correspondence his Department holds on the use of radio-frequency identification technology with a real-time location system in schools produced in the last three years.
Elizabeth Truss: We have undertaken an electronic and paper search which has identified a Freedom of Information request and two correspondence replies on this matter in the last three years. These have been placed in the House Library.
After complaints made to the Information Commissioner Office, ICO, regarding West Cheshire College’s inability to answer FOIR questions the college informed the ICO that it could find no records after a keyword search in “Physical Document Storage, Archived document store, West Cheshire College website search, Current Email, Archived Email from backup” (this is in an email received from the ICO).
West Cheshire College tagged thousands of students for 2-3 years with active RFID supplied by a US corporation, Zebra Technologies, developing that particular RFID for the IEEE. The same company comes onto college premises and films students and staff for a promotional video. A member of college staff flies to Florida to speak and an international RFID conference, there is no record whatsoever of this at the college. Official trial of the RFID did not start until September 2012 and ran for less than 6 months before being switched off. According to the college the system was not fit for purpose.
This type of UWB RFID is extremely accurate, it is used by the military and industry. There is nothing wrong with the technology.
Devices that give off radio frequencies have a ‘Specific Absorption Rating’ (SAR) to indicate the level of radiation absorbed by the body. Zebra Technologies were emailed three times about the SAR of the UWB RFID they did not reply. OFCOM were FOIRed to see if they could advise the SAR of 6.35-6.75GHz – they could not.
A letter was sent in December 2012 to the Children’s Commissioner about WCC and RFID, which they acknowledged. They were emailed twice since to instigate a reply – no reply was ever received.
The Department of Education were FOIRed – they knew nothing about RFID in any educational establishment or at WCC. The Department of Education advised that the Department of Business Innovation and Skills might know.
The Department of Business, Innovation and Skills were FOIRed – they knew nothing about RFID in education or at WCC and advised that the Department of Culture Media and Sport were the relevent department.
The Department of Culture, Media and Sport were FOIRed – they knew nothing about RFID in education or at WCC.
(See here for the FOIR to the different Government Departments and did not know another governement department that could advise).
Seemingly the spend of £1,050,242 was not known about by any government department, MP or member of the House of Lords.
Sara Mogel, the Chief Executive and Principal, the person responsible for the spend, authorised £1,050,242 to be spent on a system with no cost benefit analysis. A system that was proposed and decided upon in one meeting with no prior warning. No audit trail exists and only one document exists, the minutes of the meeting 23rd July 2010, to justify the spend.