Preschoolers being radio-tagged

Mary Robinette Kowal sez, "Preschoolers in Richmond, California are being handed RFID jerseys when they get to school. The ACLU points out that in addition to the privacy concerns, these are not secure tags. It has the potential to make kidnapping and stalking very easy."
The editors of Scientific American said it well back in May 2005: "Tagging ... kids becomes a form of indoctrination into an emerging surveillance society that young minds should be learning to question."
Don't Let Schools Chip Your Kids (Thanks, Mary, via Submitterator!)


  1. This is FUD.

    The ACLU claims :
    “””Without real security, RFID chips could actually make preschoolers more vulnerable to tracking, stalking, and kidnapping. Someone who wants to do children harm could potentially sit in a car across the street and scan the children’s jerseys without teachers, school officials, parents, or children ever knowing that any information has been read. And if this information can be read, it can be copied easily to a duplicate chip. A child could be taken off campus while the duplicate chip continues to tell RFID readers that the child is safely at school.”””

    So let me get this straight: because there is an RFID tag on a child’s jersey which is being used to test for presence, Pre-School teachers will not notice that a child is missing from their class? They’re just going to look at an empty desk and say “Oh , well the RFID reader says they’re here”.

    The argument articulated against RFID usage in this instance is so far beyond common sense that I’m truly astonished that its coming from the ACLU.

    1. If it were as simple as checking to see which kids were in your class why introduce the chips at all?

      Also what information is on those chips? Just the name? The child’s name and next of kin? Contact details for the next of kin in case something happens? Perhaps (and hopefully) it’s just some kind of encrypted ID number that corresponds to another encrypted database that is stored on site. However given that these chips have been introduced as a cost saving measure I highly doubt it.

      If the next of kin contact details are stored on there, you could bet that would include the child’s address and then you have some real issues on your hands.

  2. Campus =/= class. Think of recess, with a lot of kids outside you won’t particularly notice if one is missing until it’s too late. The RFID chips would be there to let the teacher know they are all outside, but if there’s a dummy chip, the teacher’ll have a false sense of security thinking that they’re all safe until it comes time for everyone to go inside. Also, this wouldn’t just be limited to kidnappers, but also rather intelligent kids as well (and don’t go saying they’re just preschoolers damnit, there are smart kids) that manage to make a dummy chip themselves. And plant it in the bathroom or and leave campus, heck, they could just bloody take of the jersey.

    It’s just like RFID chips on credit cards, they’re far from secure and actually make your security weaker as they can easily be read from 40+ feet away from where it is.

  3. Wasn’t there a story about something similar at a school in (I think) Japan, and some kid had like five jerseys stuffed in his bag so his friends could run off to McDonalds without being missed?

  4. Double dipping — surveillance and conformity all in one. Don’t the jerseys amount to a uniform, and have the parents consented to either one?

  5. I guess it won’t be too long now before the kids start putting rocks in their shoes to avoid the gait recognition.

    I remember the minor rebellion in high school because they started issuing ID badges and making you carry them. It’s amazing how fast the bar slides.

    1. I think maybe it depends on the model of the chip. RFID is semi-passive; the energy source comes through the air in the form of the transmitted radio waves.

      So with a high-watt transmitter and a chip that won’t reach saturation too quickly, you might get better range.

      That being said, I have no idea what the range is on the ones they’re using. It’s also important to know if that range is the spec limit, or just dictated by the power level of the transmitter they’re using.

  6. I think RFID chips can’t be excited from long range, but the resulting signal can be read from pretty far away.

  7. Exactly what expectation of privacy does a child have from the knowledge that they are on campus? This is about attendance, not about searching lockers.

  8. Why in a jersey? Just inject it under the skin, like our dog has! [Sarcasm, in case you’re wondering.]

  9. Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director, ACLU of Northern California.

    We are really concerned about the privacy and safety of these preschoolers. At this point, we know from County officials that the system deployed is a Real Time Location System(RTLS)/Active RFID with a read range of up to 100 feet.

    These preschoolers are not only wearing these jerseys in school but also on the playground and on field trips.

    Parents should not have to pay for Head Start with the privacy and safety of their preschoolers.

    We will be working in the days ahead to learn more about this program and what, if any, guidance about privacy and security issues was provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and Head Start along with the federal grant funds to purchase this system. We will post updates on our blog at

  10. OK, so I realize that this story connects to a popular meme of the evils of RFID/Big Brother and all that, but I’m getting cognitive dissonance between the ACLU’s freakout about stranger abduction (incredible rare at the worst of times, and how often by anyone we would consider capable of building/using a remote RFID tracker/cantenna? Regardless of television, most evil people aren’t geniuses or even geeky), and the “free range children”/dangerous toys movement often endorsed on this blog.

    Frankly, it just looks like you’re being irrational because something involves a technology you don’t approve of.

    1. There are a lot of things you can do besides abduction, depending on what kind of information is stored on there.

    2. Stranger abduction is uncommon, but non-custodial parent abduction happens all the time. Love your kids but hate your wife? Abduct them and flee to another state or Mexico. (It happened twice to a pair of girls my mother baby sat when I was young.) An RFID that says that they are on the elementary school’s campus could delay a proper search for quite a while.

      Plus it’s totally creeptastic.

  11. Sounds like it’s time to send some “Don’t Chip Me, Bro!” t-shirts to Richmond, CA. Size Youth Small.

    – yeff

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