Texas student appeals court order to wear "Mark of the Beast" RFID tracking badge

Filed Under: Featured, Law & order, Privacy

Student badgesA Texas high school student in the US on Tuesday was ordered to wear an RFID tracking badge that she claims bears the "mark of the beast", but by Friday she had turned the case right back around, asking a federal appeals court to overturn the order to either wear a chip-less badge or change schools.

On Tuesday, a lower federal court had concluded that 15-year-old sophomore Andrea Hernandez's right of religion had not been breached by the mandated tag.

A Texas federal judge found that the school's offer to accommodate her by requiring her to wear a neutered ID badge - one stripped of RFID chip - was ample accommodation for her religious objections.

The judge said on Tuesday that Hernandez had two choices: if she wanted to stay at the John Jay High School, she'd be required to wear the badge.

Otherwise, she could pick up and transfer to a new school by January 18, the end of the semester.

In the appeal [PDF] filed on Friday, Hernandez's attorney said that Andrea objects to participating in the school district's so-called "Student Locator Project" on the basis of the Book of Revelation.

The Book of Revelation states that an individual's acceptance of a certain code identified with his or her person as a sign of submission to government authority is a form of idolatry, or submission to a false god.

The school offered to let her wear a de-chipped badge and thereby keep up the pretense of participating in the project, but that's a moot point, given that the badge itself would then be a "mark of the beast" and a tacit sign of her participation in the program, wrote her lawyer:

"By express support for the Project through wearing its visible symbol on her person, Andrea would be expressing support for a program to which she adamantly objects on the basis of her sincere religious beliefs. This, in her view, would be dishonest."

"To Andrea, this 'accommodation' is similar to allowing a religious adherent who must eat a pork-free diet to have his pork-free diet, but to require him to wear a shirt advocating pork."

A one-year pilot test of the tracking IDs was rolled out in October for two purposes: to keep tabs on students' whereabouts at all times, and to make money.

RFID, courtesy of ShutterstockThe new system costs about $500,000, but school administrators have said that they're hoping to increase attendance by tracking the students, which could help them to score up to $1.7 million from the state government.

The school district's budget, like most state-financed schools, is tied to average daily attendance.

Hernandez refused to go along with the program, showing up at the school with her father to protest in the fall.

The school tried to suspend her, but the Rutherford Institute, which advocates for civil liberties, filed a petition on Hernandez's behalf.

In November, a district court judge blocked her suspension.

As Wired has noted in its coverage of Andrea Hernandez's battle, there are multiple chipping programs now in use or proposed in schools throughout the US:

  • A federally funded preschool in Richmond, California, began embedding RFID chips in students' clothing in 2010.
  • An elementary school outside of Sacramento, California, scrubbed a plan in 2005 amid a parental uproar.
  • A Houston, Texas, school district began using the chips to monitor students on 13 campuses in 2004 for the same reasons the school district in Hernandez's case - the Northside Independent School District - implemented the program.

The first impulse of many who disagree with mandated tracking is to suggest that the badges be spun in a microwave for a bit.

That sounds gratifying, but as I've said in the past, I agree with Andrea Hernandez, her father and her legal advisors, who wouldn't be satisfied with merely nuking the tags and the chips.

Rather, they're fighting the mindset that everyone must be monitored and controlled.

RFID image, courtesy of Shutterstock

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50 Responses to Texas student appeals court order to wear "Mark of the Beast" RFID tracking badge

  1. Debbie · 959 days ago

    We already mandate that parents monitor and control their underage children. That's why parents are legally responsible when an underage child breaks the law. So once again, it's the new tool, not the basic concept, to which people object.

  2. Parents also apparently read the bible Revelation 13:16 "He also forced everyone, small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on his right hand or on his forehead,"

    Maybe a case under privacy issues, but since it is a BADGE not a MARK on the forehead or hand I wouldn't even make it a religious case.

    So can we at least have a legitimate case brought and not one by people who are biblically illiterate.

  3. Dee B. Pickus · 959 days ago

    Sippery slope.

  4. Larry M · 959 days ago

    Good article, and I am in general agreement, but characterizing the Rutherford Institute as an agency which "advocates for civil liberties" is misleading. The Rutherford Insititute is well known for its extreme religious right stance.

    • Lisa Vaas · 959 days ago

      thanks for noting that, Larry. I was just thinking this morning that I need to find out a bit more about them.... my apologies for not clarifying their aims. i still applaud their doggedness in backing Andrea's fight, though it's being done with an agenda I don't support. Freedom of religion, yes; fight for the right not to be tracked, yes; any other religious right agenda, not my cup of tea. to put it lightly.

    • Reality Hammer · 959 days ago

      Their spot on the political spectrum does not disqualify them from fighting for civil liberties.

  5. Rob · 959 days ago

    Land of the free, right?

  6. What is the "Mark of the Beast"? Can we see the card? Did this child object to wearing any label? Not good reporting when a headline is provided to draw the reader, but not explained adequately in the text.

    • It was explained quite clearly : The Book of Revelation states that an individual's acceptance of a certain code identified with his or her person as a sign of submission to government authority is a form of idolatry, or submission to a false god. She is objecting due to this bible verse as was stated in the article. The reporting was fine, but you have to actually read the article to understand the premise.

  7. Someone · 959 days ago

    It seems that every other day I hear something about either terrible violence at a public school or awfull civil liberty violations in an attempt to prevent the violence. It is certainly a hard line to walk for the people who are entrusted with the safty of children in schools. I'm soooo glad that my wife and I are in a position to home-school our children!

  8. Phillipduran · 959 days ago

    @ Debbie No, were ok with parental monitoring so it isn't just the case of a new tool to do the same thing. It's an anti governmental monitoring lifestyle that is being opposed. The government is creating a system where we are all being treated like kids that need to be looked after and controlled. Kids in school with these systems are going to be indoctrinated into a system of being controlled, submissive and monitored by the government. This country was founding on EXACTLY the opposite. We rule the government and they submit to us. Not the other way around. I've owned guns all of my adult life and right now they are trying to work on some sort of regulations to restrict my firearm freedoms. Who am I harming with my guns? I've never done anything wrong and now I might lose some freedoms. . . for what? To give people the illusion of being safer? I dont think so.

  9. Perry G · 959 days ago

    Many people give up their right to be monitored every day, Have you clicked on the share my location button on your apps??. do you Use a gps tracking device ,cell phone or worse a Pay pass credit card , tap an go Credit card? with all these you have given up your right. An yes your being monitored.

    • Josie · 959 days ago

      But in every instance this is a choice that we as individuals make. And we have the ability to start or stop that process at any time.

      I'm sure you meant "their right NOT to be monitored", but this isn't true. They still retain that right and can invoke it at any time.

      Not true with mandatory monitoring programs... which should be pretty obvious.

      • Geoff · 958 days ago

        Except this isn't mandatory. The family has the right to change schools or even home school.

  10. William · 959 days ago

    Shame on you, Lisa.

    You left out the part where the school offered her an ID without a chip after she objected. The lawsuit itself had nothing to do with RFID tracking. The judge ruled that offering her a chipless ID card was sufficient accommodation.

    Privacy advocates really don't want to use this case as their torch bearer. The plaintiffs have tried hard to make it a case about RFID but it's not. It may have four legs like a thoroughbred but it's still a donkey.

    • Lisa Vaas · 959 days ago

      whaa???? :-( I did include that.... in multiple spots...

      "A Texas federal judge found that the school's offer to accommodate her by requiring her to wear a neutered ID badge - one stripped of RFID chip - was ample accommodation for her religious objections."

      "The school offered to let her wear a de-chipped badge and thereby keep up the pretense of participating in the project, but that's a moot point, given that the badge itself would then be a "mark of the beast" and a tacit sign of her participation in the program, wrote her lawyer..."

    • Josie · 959 days ago

      Yeah, so I don't know what article YOU read. But the information regarding the chipless badge was in there.

      And the plaintiffs are NOT making it a case about RFID, they are making it a case about visibly badging and tagging people, which signifies false idolatry.

      It's the AUTHOR who is saying this is all about monitoring and control. Which, according to the plaintiff's case, it's not.

    • David · 959 days ago

      The article specifically mentioned (third paragraph) that the school offered a chipless ID and Hernandez objected (sixth paragraph).

  11. JimboC_Security · 959 days ago

    Hi everyone,

    I am going to dis-agree with everyone because while I can see the moral and privacy implications of what is going on in the school mentioned in the article, I don’t see it is a big deal.

    The school can monitor where the kids are and have the security cameras follow them if they choose. There might be a reason for that e.g. keeping tabs on a known trouble maker , preventing fights from getting to out of hand, to ensure the kids aren’t carrying prohibited items (by seeing the items in their hands on camera), to check that a study period is being used for that and not texting on phones or surfing the web etc.

    Remember a lot of the kids are carrying smartphones that broadcast their GPS coordinates using online services. If they post a message on a website, their IP address and general locality is also logged but this happens all the time and is accepted. In addition, the position of their phone can be triangulated by their mobile provider if necessary, again this is also accepted. The school may know a kids exact position, but the kids are in the care of the school and the parents would not want their kids truanting or not being where they should be e.g. having a smoke out the back of the school when they should be in class. Remember the school is using the kid’s location for these and other reasons but they are not making those locations publically available on the internet.

    I would be curious to know if there is a staff member dedicated to monitoring the kids or if it’s just the teachers monitoring them when they’re not in class teaching. Or if the teachers have a rota where 1 teacher monitors the kids for a week and then hands it over to another teacher and so on. Why is that important, if it is just the teachers monitoring the kids, they would be doing so out of concern and for their benefit.

    Whereas a dedicated staff member be they a teacher or not might start to generate statistics e.g. how many kids were late for class, how many were truanting, how many kids aren’t where they are supposed to be in the school (e.g. having a game of football instead of being in science class etc.). Such statistics are a little like big brother watching but if there are 1000’s or 100’s of students, your kids movements are going to be lost in the data unless someone applies a filter by RFID number to the data and if they did so, they would probably have a good reason for doing it.

    • David · 959 days ago

      Phone GPS can be turned off and is not mandated or tracked by the State. That is completely different from requiring all students to wear tracking devices. If the school has a tracking program at all, (which is of questionable value), parents should be able to opt-out if they do not want their children to participate.

      • JimboC_Security · 959 days ago

        Hi David,

        I didn’t say GPS available on phones was the same, just similar. I was using it for a comparison. I am also aware it is not mandatory and can be turned off.

        I agree with you, it would be a good idea to allow parents to opt-out if they don’t wish their child to be tracked within the school. My impression from the first article on this topic (linked to in the above blog post) is that the parents and students don’t get the option and hence the controversy.

        My concerns are about the lanyard (mentioned in my post below) and the fact that the school stores the child’s Social Security Number. I would wonder how secure the database is that stores such numbers. I have read about too many companies, hospitals, schools and universities losing Social Security Numbers due to data theft/hacking/security breaches.

        Again, I am not saying I am right or wrong about the wider issue of RFID tracking and ID badges. Thanks for your input.

    • Reality Hammer · 959 days ago

      If it is like most systems it simply logs events to a journal and the administrators can use it if someone is reported missing from their assigned classroom.

      • JimboC_Security · 959 days ago

        Hi Reality Hammer,

        I wasn’t sure of how the data collected was used. Thanks for clarifying it for me.

  12. JimboC_Security · 959 days ago

    Also, I respect Andrea for standing up for her beliefs but from reading this article I am beginning to think she has double standards. E.g. from the previous article on this topic she chose in preference to wear her ID card from the previous year which did not have an RFID chip. The school have now allowed her to wear her new ID card but with the RFID de-activated and she still has a problem with it. If she feels that strongly about it, she should move to another school which also has no guarantee that the new school introduces something similar.

    If it was my kid going to that school my concern would not be the RFID but the lanyard around my kid’s neck. There is the potential for some other kid to half strangle another kid by tightening it around their neck. I have seen lanyards with detachable ID card holders for this reason (that detach when pulled too hard) and that presents another problem. What if another kid detaches your kids ID card and throws it outside the grounds of the school or brings it to another class. It would then be your kid that’s in trouble for not being where they should be (and for not wearing their ID badge!).

    This problem could be partially overcome by using a belt clip or simply putting the card in their pocket and presenting it when asked to. Their position would still be visible since the RFID is still on their person. Kids are far less likely to grab something when it’s not within easy reach.

    All of the above is my opinion and I am not saying I am right/wrong. To me, the RFID broadcasting its position is simply an evolution of the old fashioned roll calls that they used in my old school (which also had security cameras which did help break up dis-order and other bad behavior since the teachers could not be everywhere at once but would react when things got out of hand).

    Roll calls had failings too, I remember guys turning up for early morning roll call and then disappearing for half or the whole day and the teachers wouldn’t always know (some but not all teachers had their own roll call to try to reduce this workaround by the kids).

  13. Rathvoldt · 959 days ago

    @Phillipduran We are not discussing gun control that is an entirely separate issue.

    I completely agree that it is and should be the responsibility of the parents to ensure that the children are attending school, dressed appropriately, and prepared to learn. Unfortunately the statistics are not supporting that. Absentee parents are not forcing their children to go to school and let alone get grades that show that every student is doing their best. We can see that in our news outlets and even observe it first hand. The police and school systems are not properly funded (as a whole) to focus in on that kind of work.

    We (collectively as all United States citizens) need to ensure that our future generations are properly educated with the basics. We (again collectively) need to ensure that we can get as many people put through our higher education institutions and trade schools or WE (collectively) will not be competing in any ways shape or form in the global economy.

    Now in order to get all these children into and through school if we have to do something as distasteful as chiping our children but until parents are doing what they should be doing, being a parent and not a friend, then someone else has to do their job.

  14. Freida Gray · 959 days ago

    In all of these cases, it isn't the parent buying the chip... it is the school.It isn't the parent saying that the child must wear the chip...it is the school.So,it isn't the parent monitoring their child ... it is the school.Many parents have chosen to make the school responsible for the part of parenting that has usually been up to the parent.If this were the parent using the "tool",the parent would be the one buying the chip & saying that the child had to wear the chip.Since it is the school doing this, it is the school that chooses to monitor & "control" YOUR child.

  15. G-Man · 959 days ago

    Along the same lines as Phillip - let's get the school district employees and EVERYONE at the Federal courts to wear RFID chips badges with locators throughout the buildings and then report (generically) the times that judges, bailiffs, superintendents, janitors, etc report to work, how long a lunch they take, what time they leave, etc. They are all government employees whose salary is paid by the taxpayer - so we should be sure that we are getting our money's worth and withhold payment for non-performance just like the federal government does for students.

    • Reality Hammer · 959 days ago

      I'm a bit surprised you think this isn't being done. Just about every controlled-access building logs the comings and goings of the badges. It was like this 30 years ago when our technical center started using RFID badges to control access to the computer rooms.

  16. QRS · 959 days ago


    If this is the real argument, then the family or this person at any rate, must not have a social security number, either.

    • abqwizard · 957 days ago

      or identification card / driver's license / library card...........

  17. QRS · 959 days ago

    "The Book of Revelation states that an individual's acceptance of a certain code identified with his or her person as a sign of submission to government authority is a form of idolatry, or submission to a false god."
    If this is the real argument, then the family or this person at any rate, must not have a social security number, either.

  18. G-Man · 959 days ago

    @Rathvoldt - you are applying what is good for one, is good for all. By your own admission statistically not all parents are doing a poor job, only some, so to follow your logic then only some kids should be chipped because their parents are not doing their job or a child is not performing or is a trouble maker. However it should still be up to the parent to parent and decide what is best for their child, not the state or the school; otherwise taking it to extreme home schooling could be banned because it is no longer monitored or controlled by the state.

  19. John · 959 days ago

    The next step to RFID chipping is to have one injected like a dog at the vets. Then you can be tracked every where you go, Too bad the girl did not accept the chip-less ID card. That was a mistake on her and her fathers part.

  20. jeepgeek45 · 959 days ago

    Her premises are not Biblical. The Mark of the Beast is one that controls every aspect of your life. She is free to go to another school, making that not a Mark of the Beast. I understand how it can be intimidating to wear a RF badge, and I think it is a silly requirement of the school, and I would chose a different school. By the way, attendance requirements should be thrown out. Mandatory attendance is more of a freedom lost than wearing an ID badge, RF or not. If these young adults choose to fail high school, there will be that many more jobs for those who choose to stay.

  21. Art · 959 days ago

    It would be interesting to know if she has a smartphone with 'tracking' turned on and/or a GPS chip, and if she has or hopes to have a driver's license.
    In the first case, she's being tracked by all sorts of agencies and can be tracked by the police or other governmental agencies should the need arise.
    In the second case, the 'neutered' ID badge is probably less trackable than a driver's license many of which come with bar codes, etc.
    Should she have one or the other or both, she (and her parents and the lawyers) are being very hypocritical.
    Ditto on the SSAN comment from QRS. I guess this woman never plans to work or obtain any sort of government benefits. Same for medical ID cards, etc.

  22. Reality Hammer · 959 days ago

    "Monitored and controlled" is essential to K-12 education. By law students must attend school (or be home schooled) and without "control" (that is, discipline) schools would be little more than zoos.

  23. Rathvoldt · 959 days ago

    I can appreciate your interpretation of what I wrote and respect your opinion. When a person’s decision affects the greater population then it is our collective right to as a community to address the situation. How does a community address issues affecting the entire constituency? This is supposed to be handled by our government. Naturally insert disclaimer of the varying levels of failure in our imperfect political system, but it is the only one we have at the moment.

  24. Rathvoldt · 959 days ago

    I had to break up the comment... Back on topic:

    The slippery slope line of thought or “Post hoc ergo hoc” fallacy that many people seem to apply to any argument that goes against their own personal opinion on any topic needs to be reigned back in a little. You are trying to draw a conclusion for home schooling that should not be brought into this conversation. Home schooling pros and cons and issues are completely separate. I think we can agree that this program is for local public school systems which use public monies and is conducted in publicly owned buildings. So with in that environment sure there are parents that are involved with their children and make sure they go to school and do what they are supposed to be doing. But within that environment there are children of parents that are not involved as they should be. Their activities impact the education of all children. The way I read the original article the RFID badges only function within the school premises.

  25. Rathvoldt · 959 days ago

    It would be nice if we could just hold the parents of these kids accountable but most local school systems and law enforcement does not have the budget for that which could be several orders of magnitude larger than the bill they are paying to implement this. Wouldn’t that be a good question of the local government?

    Alternatively, if the parents or children directly impacted by this new program doesn’t like it they can elect to transfer to another school up to and including home schooling; which was offered as a remedy. Now if the local parents of the children are opposed to this they can follow up with their local school board and work to end this but I suspect that there are parents from both sides that are both for and against this. That would be interesting to find out what that demographic looks like.

  26. James · 959 days ago

    Talk about good technology gone wrong!!

    In the first place, the RFID tag data and its use is the sole property of the parents. If they want this to succeed, they need to build in some authentication which occurs before the chip reveals its Unique ID number. As I understand the technology, that's not really possible. None the less, the parents should have absolute control over the data and it's usage, giving them the option to lock out the school, the police or anybody else out if they see the need.

    Further.. has it occurred to anyone that bad guys could EASILY use these to track teenage girls when they wander off campus?? They could sit back in their vans and wait until some unsuspecting young girl was in a secluded location, then pounce on her. ..or pounce on teenage guys, or elementary children, or whoever is being forced to use the technology in its current form.

    So this brings up another element, each tag needs to be self aware of its location, and cease transmission entirely when they enter a non-secured location. This could possibly be re-enabled by the parent by sending a specific transmission to the chip. This would allow the parent to find a missing child, without tipping off any perpetrators who are unaware.

    • Catherine · 958 days ago

      Even active RFID chips can only be read from distances of up to 100m, so your idea of people tracking chips from vans is completely unrealistic.
      If the ID cards had passive chips in them they could only be read when right up next to a scanner, and even that isn't guaranteed, as anyone who has tried to find a chip in a dog who is wriggling around or whose chip has migrated can attest.

  27. Glenda · 959 days ago

    "A one-year pilot test of the tracking IDs was rolled out in October for two purposes: to keep tabs on students' whereabouts at all times, and to make money"

    "MONEY" well that says it all, now doesn't it. What's next, implantation? This is very very very scary and we all should fight RFID chips.

  28. jamie · 959 days ago

    throw the clown out of school. she can either accept her free education, or the parents can do it themselves.

  29. StopSpying · 959 days ago

    I hope she wins, not by the Mark of the Beast justification but rather the fact active RFID's should not be mandated for tracking humans.

  30. EdOkhotnik · 958 days ago

    The part of this that I find interesting is the school's motivation/rationale for the RFID chips --- to increase their funding. Monitoring the students' movements; ensuring their safety seems to be an afterthought.

  31. Sam · 958 days ago

    People seems to have serious problems when it comes to government monitoring them but still expect the government to protect them from the terrorists. Well next time there is a hostage situation, why not send in a priest and see what happens.

  32. study for your life · 958 days ago

    Who or what is the Beast? what is its mark or sign of authority? and why does it say in my KJV that the mark is " in " not " on " the forehead or right hand? so what if they put a mark on your left hand or the back of your head? then what?
    it is just a money grabbing venture and has nothing to do with a mark of the beast.
    The beast is a religio-political system which one fits the bill? hmmmmm would it be the Catholic Church? what would it's mark or sign of authority? the fact that it can change times and laws Biblicaly speaking. It has changed the ten commandments from the original, it has change the day of worship from the seventh day to the first day.
    Don't worry about an RFID chip you'll get one whether you want one or not. but worry more about your religious allegiance "Vicarius Fili Dia" count the number.

  33. Randy · 956 days ago

    She should probably get out of the US then. Social security numbers aren't all that different. You just don't have to wear them...yet.

  34. Anonymous · 536 days ago

    LAUSD had the right idea, give out iPads. People love these devices and Apple iPads are hip. At the sometime, if it has any cell ability, you’re position is known, worse with GPS and bluetooth can do the same thing. Tracking tech we want to have. Give the girl an iPhone….

    Still this badge thing is really moot and a waste of the court’s time at this point. An RFID chip is just a little more technological. Albeit, it’s akin to tattooing Jewish people in concentration camps without the permanence. Beyond that extreme analogy, school uniforms help track students and mark them, student ID cards are similar as they must be carried but I guess they still aren’t over. There are just too many systems already used for religion to be a valid excuse. Range of RFID chips are rather short and I doubt they’ll be effective outside of school. While in school, do we not forfeit liberties? Maybe instead of a RFID for this kid she should have a blood hound that’s trained to replace the RFID.

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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.