The surveillance society continues to expand across America, with those who refuse to go along subject to recriminations and reprisals. That’s what’s happening to students at John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School in San Antonio whose parents refuse to have their children tracked by school officials.
According to reports, the school districts implemented new rules Oct. 1 that require each student to attend classes with photo ID cards embedded with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip, so officials are able to track every pupil’s location. Educators have said the requirement is necessary to stem rampant truancy, which is, in turn, taking a huge chunk out of the school’s funding. If the program is eventually judged to be effective, officials plan to roll it out to all 112 schools in the district, covering some 100,000 students.
Kids who won’t wear the ID trackers – which are supposed to be carried in pockets or around the neck – complain they are being targeted by teachers and are not permitted to take part in certain school functions. Some have even said they have been refused entrance to common areas like libraries and cafeterias.
Mark of the beast?
One student, Andrea Hernandez, a sophomore at John Jay, said in an interview that educators have turned a deaf ear to her pleas to respect her privacy and have told her she can’t participate in school elections if she doesn’t comply with the tracking program (apparently the Constitution really isn’t taught in many U.S. schools these days).
In an interview with Salon, Hernandez said subjecting herself to such continual monitoring was like being branded with “the mark of the beast,” a Biblical reference to the Book of Revelations.
Later, in a separate interview published by WorldNetDaily, Hernandez said the school responded by threatening her with the loss of her right to vote in the school’s homecoming king and queen contest for disobeying.
“I had a teacher tell me I would not be allowed to vote because I did not have the proper voter ID,” Hernandez told WND. “I had my old student ID card which they originally told us would be good for the entire four years we were in school. He said I needed the new ID with the chip in order to vote.”
Upon refusing to wear the RFID-chipped ID, the web paper said Deputy Superintendent Ray Galindo fired off a statement to her parents: “We are simply asking your daughter to wear an ID bad as every other student and adult on the Jay campus is asked to do.”
If she still refused; he went on, later repercussions would be stiffer than merely revoking her rights to vote in homecoming contests once the school decides to make the monitoring a mandatory attendance rule.
“I urge you to accept this solution so that your child’s instructional program will not be affected. As we discussed, there will be consequences for refusal to wear an ID card as we begin to move forward with full implementation,” Galindo wrote.
Steve Hernandez, Andrea’s father, told WND that the school seemed somewhat willing to work with his daughter, but went on to say the family is simply unwilling to “agree to stop criticizing the program” and endorse it publicly.
“I told him that was unacceptable because it would imply an endorsement of the district’s policy and my daughter and I should not have to give up our constitutional rights to speak out against a program that we feel is wrong,” Mr. Hernandez said.
Profiting from privacy destruction
But there’s money in tracking and privacy violation, you see – at least in this case.
The Northside Independent School District is set to collect north of $2 million in state funding to revise its poor attendance records; the RFID program will cost only about a quarter of that amount, with another $136,000 in annual maintenance costs.
But that money will likely not offset damages from unintended privacy violations on the back end: Heather Fazio, of Texans for Accountable Government, told WND she filed a Freedom of Information Act request regarding the program, for which she paid a $30 filing fee, and received the names and addresses of every student in the district.
“Using this information along with an RFID reader means a predator could use this information to determine if the student is at home and then track them wherever they go. These chips are always broadcasting so anyone with a reader can track them anywhere,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union told the local San Antonio Express-News earlier this year her organization expects to file a legal challenge to the tracking program. But Rebecca Robertson, who is with a local branch of the organization said that, “the ACLU of Texas will not be able to represent you or your daughter in this matter,” saying the case did not meet the group’s criteria.