In Texas, using RFID technology to track students

Schools in Texas can now monitor students through their ID cards. The system effectively takes attendance, but is it ethical?

Originally designed to track shipping goods, radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology is finding other, more personal, uses in the classroom.

This year, two San Antonio schools will require students to wear ID cards embedded with RFID chips, allowing administrators to track their locations throughout the day.

The system, which has already been used by schools in Houston and Austin, works by attaching a RFID chip in a photo ID, which is fastened to a lanyard and worn around a student’s neck. When the student walks into school, the ID is read, recorded, and transmitted to the school’s officials, allowing them to track attendance and movement throughout the day.

While the majority of students and parents at Anson Jones Middle School have accepted the system, the move has sparked concern from privacy and civil liberties groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which fear an invasion of privacy.

In a position paper for an anti-tracking campaign called Chip Free Schools, the two groups join other civil liberties organizations in voicing their concerns about the system.  The groups insist that RFID tracking violates students’ right to free speech, has the potential to be dehumanizing, and conditions young people to accept a Big Brother way of life.

The paper states:

Young people learn about the world and prepare for their futures while in school. Tracking and monitoring them in their development may condition them to accept constant monitoring and tracking of their whereabouts and behaviors. This could usher in a society that accepts this kind of treatment as routine rather than an encroachment of privacy and civil liberties.

The schools, on the other hand, maintain that RFID-tracking, in addition to keeping schools safe, will bring in millions of dollars for the district due to Texas finance rules that fund schools based on daily attendance.  With RFID trackers, the attendance of all students on campus, even the ones that missed the homeroom roll call, will be taken into account.

“We want to harness the power of the technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in school, and increase revenues,” said Pascual Gonzalez, the district spokesman. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.”

In Texas, Schools Use IDs to Track Students [NYT]

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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