The digital tracking and surveillance of school-aged kids has been growing.
Much attention has been given to the phenomenon of corporate tracking of kids’ online activities, activities that violate the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The law, originally adopted in 1998, requires Web sites aimed at kids to get parental consent before gathering information about those users who are under 13 years. Many companies, including a Disney subsidiary, have violated it. Corporate marketing interests, most notably Facebook, are fighting proposed revisions to COPPA.
A second front in the tracking of young people has gotten far less attention. Schools across the country are adopting a variety of different tools to monitor students both in school and outside school. Among these tools are RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags embedded in school ID cards, GPS tracking software in computers, and even CCTV video camera systems. According to school authorities, these tools are being adopted not to simply increase security, but to prevent truancy, cut down on theft and even improve students’ eating habits.
The RFID tag system popularly known as “Tag and Track” is being sold to schools system across the country by a variety of vendors, including AIM Truancy Solutions, ID Card Group and DataCard.
In general, these systems consist of a school photo ID card affixed to a lanyard that is worn around the student’s neck. The ID has a RFID chip embedded in it. The tag includes a digit number assigned to each student. As a student enters the school or pass beneath a doorway equipped with an RFID reader, the tag ID is read, recorded and sent to a server in the school’s administrative office. The captured data not only provides an attendance list (sent to the teacher’s PDA), but tracks the student’s movement throughout the day.
Students and parents in San Antonio, TX, are up in arms over a decision by the Northside Independent School District to require students at two local schools to wear RFID-equipped nametags as part of the Student Locator Project. The two schools, John Jay High School and Anson Jones Middle School, plan to use the nametags to pinpoint student locations both at the school and outside its premises. In addition, students are required to use the microchip ID when checking out school library books, registering for classes and paying for school lunches.
Pascual Gonzalez, a school district spokesman, said, “We want to harness the power of technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues.” One student, Andrea Hernandez, said the badge “makes me uncomfortable. It’s an invasion of my privacy.”
Local San Antonio news media make clear that something other than school security is at stake. The local school district loses $175,000 a day because of late or absent students and RFID tracking provides a means to improve attendance reporting.