Robert A. Teegarden's Blog

July 20, 2012

Chip-Readers, Scanners and Stud­­ents­­­

On March 20,1933, the new leader of Germany (since January of that same year) established a concentration camp in the Bavarian town of Dachau, a camp for political prisoners—people who disagreed with his politics and that of the status quo.  In April of that same year, the new government of Germany entered into a relationship with the newly-named IBM company to use its developing technology to help identify and catalog the ethnic identification of the 41million residents of Prussia. The American parent company sent over 7,000,000 reichsmarks (about $1 million) to Berlin to build IBM’s first factory in Germany.  It’s estimated that over 60,000 German citizens were housed in Dachau by the end of April that same year.

Fast-forward about 70+ years and now we have Northside Independent School District in Texas planning to “track students” using technology “implanted” in their student identification cards.  They say it’s a trial.

Now these are not passive identification cards like your state driver’s license.  Swiping your driver’s license into an appropriate reader shares a lot of information about you.  But, at least, it requires a scanner then and there.  Not so these new student chips.  No, these so-called identification cards will include what are called RFID tags (Radio Frequency Identification System) somewhat like the GPS tags that are in most cell phones today.  With the appropriate scanner, not only can one identify your name, age, gender, nationality and any other data collected about you, but this chip allows the scanner to identify where you’re located.

The district says it’s all about student safety, but they readily admit that students can be counted more accurately (than their teachers?) at the beginning of the school day to help “offset cuts in state funding,” which is partly based on student attendance.  While they say it’s for safety, it’s more about money and, I believe, the loss of liberty.

The  district notes that this technology will also be for all special education students who ride district buses.

“We want to harness the power of (the) technology to make schools safer, know where our students are all the time in a school, and increase revenues,” district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez said. “Parents expect that we always know where their children are, and this technology will help us do that.” If student attendance is unknown to the professionals in this district now, having a machine count them doesn’t necessarily make kids safer.

The district also noted that the “chip readers on campuses and on school buses can detect a student’s location but can’t track them once they leave school property. Only authorized administrative officials will have access to the information.”  The problem here is that only the school’s scanners “can’t track” students once they leave school property.  Others can.  If only authorized administrative officials have access to the information, how are the teachers to know and/or confirm that students are present?  How does this make things safer?

Imagine a Tom Clancy type-novel where the bad gal gets a hold of a copy of Who’s Who in San Antonio.  It lists the richest families by name.  Our villainess cross references that data to the other data that she’s scans out there on these student identification cards and voila; she finds the exact location of her prey.  Far-fetched, you say?  The US military uses the very same technology to locate soldiers in the field.  It can be done.  It is being done.  If the school is providing a radio-frequency identification chip for their students, student safety might as well be thrown to the wind or the first drone to fly over.

Families weren’t asked if they wished to participate in this so-called pilot program. This isn’t a volunteer program. They’re getting the RFID-tagged cards.  And officials note that students could leave the card at home, which defeats the entire purpose for the system.  The school noted that the cards cost $15 each and, if lost, a student will have to pay for a new one. The article did not say whether parents were required to pay the initial purchase or not.  Nor did they say if a student were to leave their card at home whether they’d be taxed (penalized) for not carrying it.

Why these schools in this district? A district representative noted “the district picked schools with lower attendance rates and staff willing to pilot the tags.” It’s the “attendance rates” that are a problem, not student safety. They need more money.  I love the euphemism “pilot the tags.” Apparently the teachers are unable to motivate students to attend or to count the ones who do.  The problems experienced in this district have little to nothing to do with student safety. Do the teachers have to carry these tags as well?  Maybe that would help their budget problems in a much simpler way.  But if the teachers refuse to “pilot the tags” themselves, why should their students?

The RFID cards have been compared to security cameras. They’re really more like 24/7 drones with cameras.  I need to remind these citizens of the Fourth Amendment of their Constitution.  It says:

“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

It’s been noted in previous juris prudence that a child does not check their Constitutional rights at the school house door. Just because they attend a government/union school doesn’t mean that they must give up their right to be secure in their persons.  Being tracked electronically is not one of those reasonable exceptions to the rule.

The school district runs a terrible risk by mandating such a program.  They are putting their students at risk from outside sources. Whether the tracking is done by electronics or tattoos, it’s wrong.

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