US schools track teens by putting chips into students' ID cards

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Surveillance_170; Surveillance_250: Texas schools putting tracking chips into students' ID cardsA Texas school district in the US is putting tracking chips into new, mandatory student IDs to keep tabs on students' whereabouts at all times.

The one-year pilot test is being rolled out in October for some 4,200 students in the John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School, which are two of the 112 schools in the district.

Students will be required to wear the cards on a lanyard around their necks and will be charged a fee for losing them.

Their location will be beamed out to electronic readers throughout the campuses, Northside Independent School District spokesman Pascual Gonzalez told FoxNews.com.

Some parents are protesting, comparing the tags to RFID chips used to track cattle.

Steven Hernandez, a father of a student who attends the Texas school and the only local parent to attend a protest late last month, told KSN News that the new badges amount to "a spy chip".

RFID: Texas schools putting tracking chips into students' ID cards

His daughter, Andrea, a sophomore, told KSN that she's decided to wear her old photo ID even though students were told the new micro-chip ID is mandatory:

"It makes me uncomfortable. It’s an invasion of my privacy."

She's also concerned about who else might track students besides educators.

Although the school district assures parents that the ID cards don't work outside of school, Andrea Hernandez says she's worried, given that the RFID chips can't be turned off and continue sending a signal even when students leave the building:

"With a smart phone you can use the option to use your locator but this I can't turn … off"

According to FoxNews, a letter addressed to parents hypes the cards on the basis of helping educational staff to keep track of the 3,000 students now at Jay High School and Jay Science & Engineering Academy, which is particular helpful when catastrophe strikes.

The schools are also hoping the cards will help them to save money, given their potential use in the cafeteria and library, and that using the cards will help them to keep non-students off the grounds.

What could possibly go wrong?

Gosh, I don't know. How about someone stalking your kids, knowing exactly where they are throughout the day? Good thing the chips are going into ID cards, not into the kids themselves.

Forgive me if that's an overreaction, but my mind has conflated this chipping news with the Girls Around Me stalking application.

If you didn't catch John Brownlee's Cult of Mac writeup about Girls Around Me, here's his description of the application (also known as a "game", though likely that fun-filled word is what stalkers would use to describe it, not its targets/victims):

"...a radar overlaid on top of a Google Map, out of which throbs numerous holographic women posing like pole dancers in a perpetual state of undress."

The location aspect is fed by check-ins from Foursquare and Facebook, and it's fueled by publicly available information posted on those sites.

In other words, it's a perfect case study of how publicly available data, supplied willingly (or cluelessly) by these social networks' users, can be turned into a stalking app.

As Girls Around Me says in its promos:

In the mood for love, or just after a one-night stand? Girls Around Me puts you in control! Reveal the hottest nightspots, who’s in them, and how to reach them...

Do we really want people we don't know "in control?"

The Texas chipping scenario involves school teachers and administrators who want access to children's exact whereabouts - they're not creepy stalker guys looking for a one-night stand.

Thing is, what if someone with a nefarious agenda works in our school systems?

Just on Thursday this week, the Boston Globe reported that a pediatrician and former medical director at a private boys academy had been charged with having 500+ photos and 60+ DVDs of child porn in his Andover, Massachusetts home.

teen_in_city; Surveillance_170; Surveillance_250: Texas schools putting tracking chips into students' ID cards
So, will these RFID tags be effective?

As Andrea Hernandez pointed out, her classmates certainly won't stop skipping classes because of the RFID tags.

Instead, they'll just stuff them into a locker or hand them off to a friend, she said.

As FoxNews reported, a coalition of privacy and civil liberties organizations and experts have called for a moratorium on the technology, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Liz McIntyre, author of "Spy Chips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every Purchase and Watch Your Every Move."

McIntyre told FoxNews that one of her main concerns about the technology is that the electronic readers could get into the wrong hands.

As it is, these kids are already ultra-surveilled.

The district now has digital surveillance cameras in all high schools and middle schools and on all buses, plans to install digital cameras in elementary schools, and keeps police officers on duty.

Is that really not enough?

Chipping the kids might well have benefits for a cash-strapped school district, but it would be nice to teach children the values of privacy, and those lessons won't be taken seriously unless school boards practice what they preach.

And here's a note to Mr. Hernandez: congratulations. You've raised a smart young woman.

Here's hoping she's also savvy about publicly displayed information on Facebook and other sites.

Big Brotherschool teen and RFID tag images thanks to Shutterstock.

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45 Responses to US schools track teens by putting chips into students' ID cards

  1. Alan Reid · 777 days ago

    Stick them in a microwave, the ID's not the children. After a while administration will relent!

    • Paul · 773 days ago

      Not if you have to pay for each non-working tag and must maitain a working tag for your kid to enter the school.

  2. JohnMWhite · 777 days ago

    Why do they always try this kind of thing with children and teenagers? Schools have got to learn they are not running prison camps - the students do have rights and they deserve at least an ounce of respect. The staff who dream up this nonsense, not so much.

    • Lisa Vaas · 774 days ago

      Captive audience, limited rights.

    • Internaut · 774 days ago

      They start with the kids because they easier to make things "mandatory", and easier to control. It's a foot in the door of controlling the masses. Most kids today cannot fathom the idea of life without a cell. Soon, they will become accustomed to the lanyard, then a pocket device tracking where ever they go, and parents will endorse that one IF the parent has the access to their whereabouts. Won't matter since it will all be done fore the 'children's protection and efficient means of dealing with teen crime and abuse'.

      Then, the children become adults and soon, with a new world order ID chip painlessly embedded under our skin. This will of course, reduce the risk of terrorism, crime, injury, abductions, and the list goes on.

      I think the short answer is, they are being assimilated.

  3. Terry · 777 days ago

    Why didn't the Texas school district hold a vote of the 4,200 pupils and their parents before this went ahead? Answer: that would be democracy - and there is no place for democracy in institutional dictatorships like the Texas school board. Think on...

    • Paul · 773 days ago

      BE absolutely honest. To you practice an absolute democracy in your home? Or do you allow yourself to have expectations as to responsibilities of your children and what they do each day. Do you let them wander aimlessly with an encouragement of 'do whatever you want'. Shall we have ALL children vote for all elected offices. I think if we did, YOU might try to influence them in a biased way and might still feel it's democratic. Sorry, but do your own thing in society has some very practical limits.

  4. David Pottage · 777 days ago

    What is the range of these RFID enabled student ID cards?

    If these are unpowered cards with a range of half an inch or so, then I fail to see the problem, as they cannot be read without the student's knowledge. In that form I can see many advantages, as it makes it possible to automate a lot of manual tasks, such as recording who is present for class, who was in the building in case of a fire, and paying for food in the cafeteria and at vending machines.

    Many companies have RFID enabled ID badges which are used for door access, and payments. Why are badges like this a problem for students, when it is OK for their parents?

    If on the other hand they are powered cards with a range of several meters then I can see that the privacy complaints would be a bit more justified. At one employer I worked at we had badges like that. It was handy that the doors would unlock as you approached them. (The readers where in the floor several feet from each side of the door), but it did mean that the building computer knew which room every employee was in, and managers could if they so desired work out who spent the most time in the building but not at their desk.

    What it boils down to, is do you trust the holder of the database? Are they going to use the logs of RFID reads for purposes you don't like, or share those logs with other actors you don't trust.

    In the case of a school, I could imagine that it would create a problem for truants, slackers or bullies, as the logs would make it easier to see who was skipping class, and make it harder of bullies to steal lunch money (if all payments where by card), but I fail to see how these cards are a problem for an average student.

    • Jordan · 777 days ago

      I agree. These cards would /HELP/ see who is skipping and who is really sick so I think they are a good idea. I can't wait for them to come here to Oregon.

    • Glaug · 777 days ago

      "Why are badges like this a problem for students, when it is OK for their parents?"

      Because a child is legally required to be in school, or they are truant. Truancy has legal penalties. There is no legal penalty for declining to work at a company that records your movement.

    • JohnMWhite · 777 days ago

      Presumably they have a significant range since the school district says they work 'inside the school' and are to be used in emergency situations to immediately locate students. And I simply do not trust a school district to keep such data safe nor do I trust their motivations for demanding it and insisting that being able to track the movements of other human beings is mandatory. I'm not sure how this would create a problem for bullies - but it would be a goldmine for them if they can figure out the frequency (or just slip into the room where the computer tracking everyone is) and follow their potential victims' every movement. Not to mention I would not be shocked if (speculation here, but not unheard of in other schools) they sold the private information and spending habits of students to third parties for marketing purposes.

      Schools have got to learn that students are not cattle and staff can't just decree that students follow their every edict because they're older. This sort of thing should have been discussed for a long time and the security and privacy ramifications actually looked at.

  5. Marge · 777 days ago

    Would microwaving the badge for 60 seconds help?

    • David Pottage · 774 days ago

      Three seconds would probably be sufficient.

      But you might get hungry if the school cafeteria stops accepting cash and only accepts payment via credits loaded onto the student ID card.

      Another, less drastic workaround that might work would be to line the badge holder with kitchen foil to block the radio signals, and take it out when you need to use a reader to pass through a door or buy something.

    • Paul · 773 days ago

      Marge,
      I would recommend doing about 10 of them in a microwave sequentially or whatever your economic limit is and admitting you are doing each time to protest. If they charge you $25.00 a pop to replace them start a grass roots organization to get othesr to foot the bill for you standing up to the 'man'. To use the chiche'....... Freedom isn't really free.

  6. Muddog. · 777 days ago

    Our lives are no longer our owen!The war between US and Them is allmost over and we lost.

  7. realbulldogz · 777 days ago

    I wonder how those cards would stand up to a couple minutes in the microwave? Just sayin'..

  8. Paul · 777 days ago

    I think that the practice should be expanded. I think it will help with bullying, drugs on campus, gang and criminal activity. When we think of privacy, think of embarrassing intimate details that may give someone else long term power over us. This does not fit into that mold. And our young adults trying to convince parents that it does in some way is just a ploy to avoid consequence of unacceptable actions. Remove the monitoring, remove the possibility of consequence. There are as many reasons for these systems protecting students as reasons against.

    Come on let's face it. We ALL want to get away with as much as possible. Man up and admit it directly and stop beating around the bush.

  9. veritaze · 777 days ago

    @JohnMWhite and additionally, with poor, disadvantaged, "minority" ones?

  10. polyonomous · 777 days ago

    They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety. - Ben Franklin

    • Paul · 774 days ago

      This is a little naive today. I know I'm glad that the FBI and Scotland Yard monitor the crazies..... aren't you?

  11. Curtiss · 777 days ago

    I agree with - David Pottage.
    If used only in the school. Than fine. If out side.. than that is an issue.
    I can see people issues with this. If i had to were a chip so people can know where i was every second of the day than i would be upset. However if i would be required to wear this while in school. I wouldn't have much of an issue being Its school! It's a place you go to to learn.. not to ditch classes and hang out with your friends. Parents pay a lot of money for their kids to attend them.

    This in a positive side can help prevent bullying from other students.
    At the same time It can be used against the students as a type of blackmail ( I know what you did yesterday at 4:33pm at such and such building.)
    Every thing has it's good and bad sides to it. Give it a shot.

    Worst case scenario is they take advantage of it and they lose students in turn brings around the closing of the school and lose of jobs.

    Also. Why not have it send a signal to a phone of the parents saying when the chip is active? Student arrives at school and is in first period. Oh a text to a parent stating they are in the class room is not a bad thing. Even more so if the kid has had issue with attending class to begin with. Just my opinion.

  12. Gerry · 777 days ago

    As David Pottage has said: the range is very important here. If they can't be read without being placed on a reader there there is not problem, and many schools in the UK are using such technology for security (for example electronic locks on gates).

  13. Rogier · 777 days ago

    It's conditioning. Condition the children to accept non-stop surveillance and they won't be a hastle when they grow up. That's all...
    @David: I believe the article offers plenty of issues with this (moronic) idea.

  14. Rogier · 777 days ago

    Great post Lisa...

  15. Glaug · 777 days ago

    This is a great way to teach children that it is normal to be surveilled by the government, it's normal to be tracked by your schools, it's normal for your life to be involuntary recorded and archived without your consent. If you can program children at school, you can prevent them from even understanding the notion of privacy. If they have no expectation of privacy, they'll never grow into troublesome adults who interfere with the power of the state. No need to remove the 4th Amendment if you can just convince everybody that it doesn't apply to *them.*

  16. LoriGard · 777 days ago

    Oviously they don't think that teenagers have the same privacy rights as adults do. However court cases over time have found in favor of minors, declaring that minors do, indeed, share all the same rights granted to adults by local, state, and the Federal governments' laws. If this case were brought, the teenagers would win. And I'm glad!

    • Paul · 774 days ago

      This would be a scary idea, if it were true. Because of their economic dependence on parents/guardians there are, in our societies, implicit understandings about 'since you live here, under my roof, eating my food, you will do such and such..........' or 'you are grounded.' I suppose there are those who would view this as a sort of imprisonment and would be willing to take it to the highest courts to ensure our young peoples 'freedom'.

      Also there are those who would never go through their children''s things to get an idea of the 'lifestyle' they are involved in, that they would NEVER talk to you about. That would be far too invasive. ALL children should be encouraged to do good but should be monitored by parents and as necessary by society BEFORE they make the life changing mistakes. They may thank you for it LATER....... when they understand it and it does not chafe against the ME attitude of society.

  17. Jack · 777 days ago

    Many respondents have their points. These cards must have significant range to be able to be used as they are. RF-ID tag equipment is starting to reach much further than is used to be imagined as possible. Such devices are projected to be able to read all items in a grocery cart, so it will have to be in excess of a meter or two. Where do we lose control over all of this data, usually at the data base where it is mishandled or lost, just where we don't want minors being discovered. Texas is a great state, unfortunately they have a propensity to shove stuff down kids throats with just a whim. Also, they are not a corrections department and have no use for knowing where these kids are (or not.) There is nothing to stop one person from hauling 6 of these into class and incorrectly identifying persons as there which could be a problem is there was a serious encroachment onto the property by bad people where there might be a reason to think they have been kidnapped or some other tort. This is just a bad idea and should be stopped asap. This will lead to someone either as a mistake or on purpose to act as someone else for criminal or other reasons. Kill thins thing now. I could ask how you would like it? It sounds as if David wasn't so happy having tracking data on him? I vote no as many others have.

    • Paul · 773 days ago

      Actually I think in most cases attendance, thankfully, is obligatory; that is, until a certain age where a person can drop out and seek other profitable activities. Granted, many of us who read Sophos e-zines have a better than average education and may have slept through a few classes and still 'made it'. But without someone (parents, teachers, principals, pastors, school board members) having expectations on our lives (for whatever motives) we surely do not achieve our full potential. Providing a more 'collegiate' lifestyle with the associated freedoms may not fully serve the upcoming generations very effectively.

  18. Alex W · 777 days ago

    I see an emerging market for RFID blocking wallets/cases here...

    • Paul · 774 days ago

      If you disappear from the school system, they will come find you. If you appear to travel with a friend all day or sit at your locker all day.....duh. Most students are clever.

  19. John · 777 days ago

    It comes down to how and when they are used. If they are used to find students in a fire or a lab explosion, say, then that would be fine. But, just to see where a student is at all times, not for me. Why do they need to know where a student is at anytime during a day? If they skip class, so what? it will be noted in the roll that they were absent.
    Move out of the student scenario and imagine if your employer now said you had to wear them all day. Would you be happy with that? I think the test is, if it is something you wouldn't like then why impose it on students? If they leave the schoolyard then they can't be tracked, so it can't be useful in a kidnap scenario.
    Kids need to be able to go out and have fun and even get into mischief, let them.
    The savvy kids will soon work a way around it, swap with other students, leave them in their bag while they wear a false photocopied one on their lanyard, something not detected until close scrutiny. It can be a worthwhile creative challenge for them :)

  20. Anonymous · 776 days ago

    I wonder what they using for authenticity, I mean if the cards just transmit a number that should be unique to a student... what is stopping me from copying it and transmitting it myself. Also, I wonder what form of crypto they are using to stop people from sniffing the information that the cards transmit.

    • Paul · 774 days ago

      I'm sure that our young hacker generation will be able to turn out their our 'copies' at some point...... maybe even making a business out of it in our free enterprise system. Human monitors with intelligent software to shown the odd patterns will help. But I hope the cards themselves will be largely benign but passwordable.

  21. Randy · 776 days ago

    Administrators need to keep an eye on kids in school. As a parent it's tough enough to watch them at home let alone at school. Kids these days lie and steal, have sex in closets at school, etc. Yes, I've heard plenty of stories from my own kids. If they think that "The Man" is watching them every moment at school maybe it will help curtail some of the bad things that happen.
    Outside of school I'd give my kid a tin Altoids container to keep his student ID in. Even wrapping it in aluminum foil would work.

  22. Eileen · 776 days ago

    The school administrator explained it this way:

    “It is like GPS in the school,” Gonzalez said. “As administrators, we are charged with the safety of students in our schools. So within the four walls of Jay High School and Jones Middle School during the school day, we will always know where those kids are.”

    It sure sounds like it's got a range. The students who want to cut class will just have their friends carry the cards; only the responsible kids will get tracked. Presumably, the company making this plans to sell it on a large scale. If so, you can expect these things to be available on the internet for students to create mischief by creating cards for nonexistent students and dropping them into inaccessible crevices to screw up the monitoring system.

  23. jezz · 775 days ago

    Just a step further in creating the New World Order, they bring in programs and pilots like these with a general explanation on how it has several helpful advantages but yet keep the true reasons why they are introducing it secret like usual. All it is, is a way for the the corporate elite to make more money of us slaves by yet again using these chips. Stay Away!!

  24. Annie Osborne- Casper · 774 days ago

    How do we know that they aren't already doing this to the id as we speak and we just aren't aware of it!!!

  25. Isabella · 774 days ago

    Im sorry but this is the worst idea in the world. This is repulsive. If students feel unsafe wearing these then they won't and more fees and punishments will be delivered. And soon more and more students will drop out and go to another school, maybe online or home schooled. I rule no for these stupid trackers.

  26. Internaut · 774 days ago

    I think the short answer is, they are being assimilated and I don't think it will stop at the schools. It will go in to prisons, jails, convicted felons on parole, convicted sex offenders, convicted drunk drivers, even police may be required to have one - for their safety, and you can bet, if it works in the schools, it will work with everyone, the students, teachers, you, and I.

    And the rich will have their cameras in the bedrooms of the poor.

    i

  27. Vito · 774 days ago

    <Do we really want people we don't know "in control?">

    How ironic...as though voting people you don't know into political offices that give them far more control over your life is somehow acceptable. If inconsistency were radioactive, the geiger counter would be pegged right now.

    For the record, I happen to agree that these mandatory tracking chips constitute an unconscionable invasion of privacy. But it's a natural consequence of the ubiquitous acceptance of "government authority", manifested in this case as a tax-supported public school district that has the authority to make such arbitrary, intrusive decisions. Look at the cross-section of opinion on this issue alone. Some people actually believe it's a GOOD thing. The mind stops.

    This is utter insanity. Nowhere in this discussion is there any mention of the principle that no one may morally interfere with your privacy or any other aspect of your property (tangible or intangible) without your explicit permission. THAT's the real issue, and it's an absolute one...which of course is exactly why you're never going to get any resolution of it through political action. Moral principles are anathema to politicians, irrespective of their phony "liberal" or "conservative" labels.

    Moral principles should transcend political opinions, and spurious distinctions like "left and right". The fact that they don't is precisely how you get messes like the one in Texas.

    • Paul · 773 days ago

      In case you have not noticed, the majority of people responding except me are dead set against this. I suspect ANY monitoring of anybody would be repugnant to you. Has YOUR mind stopped? It seems that only when people are personally effected do they see any need for any interference in their or other persons lives. Can you be flexible; society works on the compromise of peoples working together.

      Let's see, hall monitors (human) should be repugnant although they have been around for years . Compulsory minimum attendance? Nazis must be running the system. Kids having expectation of being in class? What kind of gulag is this? Reduction of reporting by teachers to do the same thing? Well they were Nazis too.

      YOU pick someone good whom you and other parents can agree upon. Touch base with them as it happens. Listen to what they have to say. Try to keep an open mind instead of convincing everyone that your point is the only one..... and try to stay calm and rational.

  28. Paul · 773 days ago

    I'm being provocative here....... How about posters telling what age you are and how many kids you have. Nothing more. Just a little profile of where your opinions are coming from.

  29. Jennifer · 773 days ago

    I don't like this idea, but if I were made to wear one of these cards I would also carry one of those RFID sleeves around with me to slip over the card whenever I desired.

  30. Rob · 773 days ago

    When I received my Nexus Trusted Traveler Card from the US Government, it came in a RFID blocker pouch, and the instructions were to leave it in the pouch at all times except when approaching a border so it could be read there.

    RFID blocking wallet (portable Faraday Cage): http://www.thinkgeek.com/product/8cdd/

    This Cell Phone Signal Blocker Pouch may also work: http://www.dealextreme.com/p/cell-phone-signal-bl...

    For those wanting to copy and/or make their own RFID card: http://www.dealextreme.com/p/125khz-rfid-card-cop...

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.