San Antonio students and parents upset at mandatory radio-tracking snitch-tags

Chris Matyszczyk on CNet rounds up a variety of reports on the outrage over the schools in San Antonio, Texas, which have insisted that their students wear radio-tag trackers. The schools are using every conceivable technique for coercing their students into submitting to wearing the technology, which reminds me of the tracker anklets that paroled felons wear. For example, one student was told she couldn't cast a vote for homecoming queen unless she submitted to the tracking regime. The schools say that the students are being tracked to reduce truancy, which will make them money -- presumably by saving them on the cost of tracking and punishing students. The practice is old hat in Houston, where students have been chipped for some time.

What some might find truly beastly, though, is that his daughter, Andrea, claims that she was told by a teacher that without the ID badge, she couldn't vote for homecoming king and queen. At least that's what Catholic Online reports.

Some might find it odd that Hernandez also reportedly claimed that the school only wanted to co-operate with his feelings if he stopped publicly criticizing the tagging.

His daughter told The Alex Jones Channel that the tags don't make her feel safer.

"I feel completely unsafe knowing that this can be hacked by pedophiles and dangerous offenders," she said.

She added: "I walk home. Dangerous offenders can pick up on my signal."

For the record, I don't think that this is a very realistic fear. On the other hand, I think that there are very good reasons to want to enjoy the privacy of being un-tracked -- for example, the fundamental freedom of association is compromised if your snitch-tag tells the administration who you hang out with.

No homecoming queen vote if you don't wear RFID tag? (Thanks, Dave!)

Discuss

95 Responses to “San Antonio students and parents upset at mandatory radio-tracking snitch-tags”

  1. scav says:

    Accidental 30 seconds in the microwave. Oops. Well, it’s mandatory to wear them, not mandatory that they work.

  2. Volker says:

    I always put my RFID into the microwave to dry them. Simple and effective!

    • awjt says:

      Yes, and put it on at school, and take it off when you leave.  They can’t tell you what to do at home, even though they think they can.

  3. hibas says:

    This is all conditioning, so you wont complain when you are asked to wear one at work in the future. 

  4. massspecgeek says:

    I think it’s likely the money they’re talking about is related to attendance-based funding.

    I agree that the microwave is the appropriate response. It has the added benefit of totally subverting the system, since their RFID count will constantly come up short of actual attendance and would result in decreased rather than increased funding.

    • WhyBother says:

      You’re correct. Schools receive funding based on students that actually show up. Usually, the data is collected at the start of second period (first period being the most likely to be missed due to a broken down car, sleeping in, etc.).

  5. PJG says:

    Microwave. 

  6. Kevin Pierce says:

    >…reduce truancy, which will make them money – 
    > presumably by saving them on the cost of 
    > tracking and punishing students.
    The schools are “paid” by the state based on attendance, so it’s not just that truancy incurs a “go find them” expense, it also directly reduces top-line revenues, all part of the ROI calculation that was used to justify the expense of the tracking system.

    Wanna track the kids with their cooperation? 
    Just let them carry their phones – on mute, of course.

    • Sagodjur says:

      “Wanna track the kids with their cooperation? 
      Just let them carry their phones – on mute, of course.”

      Hell no. IF you do agree to be tracked by the school, you do so with their equipment. Of course there’s the limitation that not all kids will have cell phones to be tracked, but you also don’t want a system that tracks personal devices. That’s more of a privacy invasion than the school-issued tags.

  7. “I think it’s likely the money they’re talking about is related to attendance-based funding.”
    I don’t understand why RFID tracking is needed to verify attendance. They know which students are supposed to be in which classes, right? It’s not like the physical presence or absence of any given student is difficult to detect. And absent a roll-call, couldn’t a truant student just give her Mark-O-The-Beast Card to someone else?

    • awjt says:

      It’s needed because fear and intimidation are more fun.

    • Faring says:

      >I don’t understand why RFID tracking is needed to verify attendance.

      Because teachers suck at taking attendance? My HS reported attendance by class. Now, I never skipped classes (whole days yes, but not just a class), but every report card each class would have a different number of missed days.

    • WhyBother says:

       “And absent a roll-call, couldn’t a truant student just give her Mark-O-The-Beast Card to someone else?”

      Which would mean the system would count them as present. Which means the school could — as far as any of them know or track — claim the student was there. Which means they get the funding. Which, frankly, they’d be happy with.

      Maybe students should stop looking a gift horse in the mouth, and just designate someone in their class as the “tag mule” so they can have the day off?

      • pKp says:

        If I know anything about high schools (and I work in one), they’ll use this IN ADDITION TO the old computerized system (and possibly the even-older, but more rugged, paper-based system). No school admin worth her salt would put her trust in a single system.
        Now, what they report is another matter…

  8. PJDK says:

    Er, anyone want to get a bit more info as to what is going on.  An RFID tag on an ID badge is not a “radio-tracking snitch-tags”, the range on those things is what 5 feet or so max (and much less for my stupid oyster card).  

    I guess you could use them for some kind of automated register and to track who is exiting and entering a building (using them as keys).  But neither of those things are particularly unreasonable for a school to do.  In my day there was a person and a book to sign.

    Also seriously “which reminds me of the tracker anklets that paroled felons wear”?  It reminds me of my office keycard.

    • scatterfingers says:

       Thanks for this comment. As I read the post something seemed… off.

      Still, either way, how does signing into and out of school or buses help reduce truancy? It seems completely unnecessary.

    • They have sensors throughout the school. One of the articles described the system of entering a student’s name and then displaying where they were in a floorplan of the school. That’s quite a bit more than simply recording attendance and certainly very much falls into radio tracking.

    • galendp says:

       Well, it depends entirely on which type of RFID system is being used.  Some systems, like what is used for the VISA PayPass system, are designed for short range (a few cm’s).  Others, such as what is used for toll roads and inventory tracking can be used at 10′s of meters.

  9. My goodness! What a nutty bunch of protesters! Are they sponsored by Alex Jones perhaps? And I don’t understand the religious infringement from rfid tags.

    • acerplatanoides says:

      Do not feed.

    • random says:

      Some people interpret parts of the book of revelations as describing a system of identification for followers of “the beast”. Sometimes such people concoct fantasy scenarios about mandatory, implanted ID chips or barcodes on the skin, but often oppose such prosaic things as currency and ID cards on the same grounds: anything that people must carry in order to participate in society, it seems. Whether the organisation introducing such things fits the description of “the beast” rarely seems to be a concern. Not that matching that description would mean anything anyway…

  10. random says:

    Sounds like a great system for attendance taking. If you feel like going on the lam, just give your card to a friend who’s going to school, and every time they get scanned so will you!

    • dragonfrog says:

      If they’re tracking entry and exit of the building only, it ought to work.  If they’re tracking at individual classrooms, it would take an unusually organized bunch of students to hand the tag off and always show up in the right classes.

      With higher-end phones capable of NFC communications, you could probably code up a program that would automatically ‘hand off’ a virtual card to someone attending the right classes.  You wouldn’t even have to plan the day before – once you’ve got card IDs and timetables entered, it could be a spur-of-the-moment  thing – one tap and you’ll attend all the right classes, provided at least one fellow user of the software is going to each class.

      • Sean Nelson says:

        Unusually organized?  If a student has a group of friends with one member in each class, it would be pretty trivial to map out a list of fewer than 8 people that need to hand off the tag to one another, and in what order.  They might do it just to stick it to the man.

        • dragonfrog says:

          Not unusually organized to plan it – unusually organized to carry it off successfully – no one forgets a hand-off, no one misses a connection because the deliverer got delayed on the way by a chatty friend and the receiver had to leave the rendez-vous point early to use the bathroom before class.

          Or maybe my friends in highschool were actually an unusually disorganized crew – that is also a distinct possibility.

      • galendp says:

         Cell phones with NFC communications would only work IF the RFID system use at the school uses the same rf modulation and protocols as the phone.  This isn’t likely as NFC is designed for close range.

        • dragonfrog says:

          My understanding is it’s a ‘definitely maybe’ sort of thing – NFC uses only one of the two common RFID frequencies, for one thing. The combination of receiver sensitivity and transmitter power in both directions would be another potential issue.

  11. Marc Mielke says:

    Kind of neat! With a map of the school and a wifi enabled device, could you not put together a tablet version of Harry Potter’s cool ‘find everyone nearby’ enchanted map?

    • dragonfrog says:

       These have been made.  Of course, they were aimed at creepily stalking women…

      • Navin_Johnson says:

        And I thought Foursquare was all about showing your friends on Facebook that you go to fancy shops and restaurants….

        • dragonfrog says:

          It is – it’s apps that build on the Foursquare API, to do the reverse:  Pick a bar, restaurant, or coffee shop, and they will mine FS and FB for names, photos and biographical info on women at those places, so that on spottin them you can have a ready lie about how you recognized them from being in the same section of developmental psych last semester.

  12. If they’re already taking attendance in each class (a reasonable method of knowing attendance), an RFID system (even just a check-in system that it will likely be) just seems like overkill. The teachers can see if a student is in class.

    Also, did anyone else see the beginning of that video? “Although we have all been conditioned to accept that technology will be spying on us all the time in this police state control group we now find ourselves living in…” Lady, this isn’t Minorty Report. A lot of that video and what the protestors are saying is just whack-a-doo. I wonder how much InfoWars had to do with putting that protest together.

  13. peregrinus says:

    The thing is, the end-game state is so well known that we know where this little seduction is headed.

    I don’t live in the woods with a dog, beard, beer and gun, but nonetheless, I don’t want anyone (except me) tracking me, my stuff, or my offspring.

    There’s this little concept called ‘freedom’ we’ve mostly all been working on these last few thousand years.

  14. I’m a huge proponent of public school and both my kids attend public school. If they ever tried this at their school, however, and they’d be in charter school so fast…

    • CCinBmore says:

       Let me fix that for you:

      “If they ever tried this at their school, however, they’d be in a quasi public/private school with less accountability and a profit motive so fast…”

      • aikimoe says:

        Reflexively bashing charter schools is really no different than reflexively bashing public schools.  Just like public schools there are good and bad charter schools.  Just like public schools there are charter schools with happy kids and sad kids, competent and incompetent teachers, selfish and selfless administrators.  

        There are charter schools that offer valued alternatives to middle and lower class families.  I know a few very liberal families that thank their lucky stars for their charter school.

        Every school is different and should be judged on its own merits.

    • Navin_Johnson says:

      Charter schools are public schools, just minus the accountability, difficult kids, and good pay.

  15. Dan Hibiki says:

    Wait wait… did any one else notice that the biggest complaint about this was that it is a “symbol of the beast”?

    Seriously? that’s the aspect you want to focus on?

  16. Jim Kelly says:

    I don’t think it’s an accident that Alex Jones is based in Texas.

    As a phenomenon, he’s a pathological response…. to pathological circumstances.

  17. Don says:

    I think the objection is out of proportion to the threat.  It’s not as if the school installed cameras in the hallways, or hidden microphones.  RFID technology will tell the school administrators whether the RFID tag has passed by some detector, so they can use it to infer whether the children are in school.

    Just so we’re clear, children ARE supposed to be in school, school officials ARE responsible to know where the children are.  It’s not as if there’s some right to truancy that’s being trampled here.

    • Sagodjur says:

      No, just a right to privacy and freedom. You’re basically saying, “if you’re not doing anything wrong, there’s no reason to fear being tracked.” The burden of keeping attendance and dealing with truancy falls on the administrators. The kids don’t have to cooperate anymore than saying “here” when their names are called in class.

      • Don says:

        If privacy is being infringed, then surely you can tell me what private student information is being exposed?  Because it looks to me as if the information being exposed is that they attended school—which is not private. (“Not private” in the sense that school officials do have the right to know it. Obviously student info isn’t public.)

        • Sagodjur says:

          If the school is only looking for attendance information, then wasting money on tracking devices is unnecessary since a head count by an educated adult who can likely count past 35 would suffice.

          I can’t tell you private information being exposed because it’s never just one thing. There are implications in data collection that no one ever sees when they’re proposing the collection of data.

          The school doesn’t need to know how long you spend in the bathroom for example. Maybe a student has IBS and the administrator suspects that their bathroom times being longer than the average times for other students is an indication of suspicious activity and they choose to interrogate the student over the issue. That’s a potential privacy violation right there.

          Do I know that they are or would do this? No, but you shouldn’t even let systems like this be in place because there are always opportunities for abuse the harm of which exceed any nominal benefit. Personal privacy and freedom as rights outweigh school funding prerogatives.

          I also think that treating students like prisoners rather than adults is the first thing you can do to make them rebel against what they likely already perceive as an oppressive authority system. Being a teenager is awkward and anxiety-inducing enough just with your hormones and social uncertainty, you don’t need big brother watching you closely as well.

          • ocker3 says:

             I disagree with your example, a school should know that a student has IBS so they can help them deal with it. There are other obvious problems with the system, but schools should know all relevant medical details about students, including any serious conditions they’re currently suffering from. I’d come up with a different example, but it’s 2am here.

          • Sagodjur says:

            “a school should know that a student has IBS so they can help them deal with it.”

            Or IBS can be an embarrassing condition to experience on its own without having to share that information with authority figures, and the student might not want their privacy violated in that way, so the school can go fuck themselves if the student seems to be taking “too long” in the bathroom. If it becomes a serious issue, obviously it can be disclosed, but the student shouldn’t have to share that information until it’s necessary and the school should allow for that possibility.

            If the information isn’t out there, it can’t be abused or disclosed in an inappropriate way or to an inappropriate party.

          • Don says:

             I would join you in objecting to tracking of their bathroom breaks.

            I agree that it’s easy enough to count the students in a classroom.  It’s not so easy to answer the question “Is this student on campus?” if class is not in session, or the student is in the cafeteria, or the student might be in the library, etc.  School officials are still accountable for the answer to that question, whether they do it manually or not.  If the detectors are on the perimeter of the campus, it seems like a sensible, measured response to a problem.

            If they want to network their RFID detectors with detectors off campus, or let police browse the data, or monitor whether this boy has been hanging around with that girl, I’ll march alongside you with a sign.

          • Sagodjur says:

            There’s no protest necessary if school administrators don’t even have the capability to “network their RFID detectors with detectors off campus, or let police browse the data, or monitor whether this boy has been
            hanging around with that girl.”

            If you don’t give them the power, they can’t abuse it. That is the only way to make sure such as system will not be abused.

        • wysinwyg says:

          Yeah, school districts would never violate a student’s right to privacy using creepy surveillance technology.

          • Don says:

             Again, you conflate ON-campus surveillance, which the school is doing, with OFF-campus surveillance, which this school is not doing, because creepy.  Because you object to school administrators being allowed to take attendance at their own school.  You haven’t articulated how any of what’s actually happening in San Antonio infringes on student freedom or privacy, except their (fictional) freedom to skip school.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Actually, I have.  You ignored everything I said to go off on your own irrelevant argument about how it’s totally cool to make people wear tracking devices under some circumstances but not others; but just because you ignore my arguments doesn’t mean I’m not making them.  (Evidence: I never said administrators shouldn’t be allowed to take attendance, but you accuse me of doing so. There’s a big difference between a policy like this one and “taking attendance” as I’m sure you’re actually aware.) Here, I’m just pointing out that there’s some precedent for school systems abusing surveillance capabilities.

            Since I apparently need to spell out everything really explicitly for you, it is dehumanizing to make people wear tracking devices. It is bad to dehumanize children. Thus, the policy is a bad one. Just because tracking kids off-campus is worse than tracking them on-campus doesn’t mean tracking them on-campus isn’t bad.

          • wysinwyg says:

            except their (fictional) freedom to skip school

            Incidentally, the guys who wrote the US constitution wouldn’t have considered this freedom to be fictional.  Almost all of them would probably be horrified at the thought of 12 years of mandatory schooling. Even the ones who owned slaves if that tells you anything.

  18. wysinwyg says:

    Strange how many people think it’s “weird” or “nutty” not to want to wear a device whose sole conceivable purpose is to track your movements.  Maybe their specific fears are a little overblown but that’s just a function of how creepy this policy is in the first place.

    Yes, RFID tags are tracking devices.  WTF did you think they were?  Jewelry?

    • Don says:

       It’s a tracking device IF you set up a detector AND you know which tag number goes with which student AND the student carrying the device walks within range of the detector.  If all that is true, then you get to know when a particular student walks past a particular spot.  It only tracks my movements if there are multiple detectors and I move past them.  Obviously, this only works on school property, because there are (presumably) no school-owned RFID detectors off campus.

      In other words, this technology only tells school administrators where students are while they’re at school, which they are already supposed to know.

      • wysinwyg says:

        Blah blah blah.  I know the necessary preconditions for tracking people/things with RFID.  That’s all completely beside the point.  What possible purpose could there be in making kids wear RFID tags other than tracking them?  None whatsoever.  Thus, they are tracking devices.  Full stop.

        • Don says:

           So you don’t see any difference between knowing students’ locations at school, and tracking them off-campus?  I would object to the latter, as you would, but that’s not what’s going on here.

          Should teachers NOT be allowed to know where their students are during the school day?

          • wysinwyg says:

            So you don’t see any difference between knowing students’ locations at school, and tracking them off-campus?

            Is that what I said?  No.  So how about you reread what I said and respond to that?

            Should teachers NOT be allowed to know where their students are during the school day?

            Non sequitir.  Again, try responding to what I actually said.  But for the record, no, education should not be mandatory past the age of 14 (maybe even earlier) so it’s none of a teacher’s goddamn business where a high school student is during the school day.   (This is going to be an unpopular opinion; I don’t really care.  Kids who don’t want to be in high school shouldn’t be in high school.)

            Somehow my whole graduating class got through high school without wearing radio collars. The teachers managed.

          • Don says:

            Your objection to the devices (“radio collars?” really?) is that they “track your movements.”

            My response is that they can only track your movements on campus, where school officials are responsible for knowing where you are at any given moment.  Off campus, nothing’s changed, and teenagers carrying those devices can move around anonymously at will. 

            We can disagree on whether kids older than 14 should be forced to attend school; that’s not the issue here.  Dropouts presumably won’t be at school to be tracked.

          • wysinwyg says:

            Your objection to the devices (“radio collars?” really?) is that they “track your movements.”

            Actually, my objection was that the policy is creepy. Again, try reading what aI actually write and responding to that. But if the purpose of the devices is not to track students, then what is the purpose?  I’m arguing with your nitpicking about whether RFID tags constitute “tracking devices”.  If they don’t, tell me what they are.  If they do count as tracking devices then we’re not actually arguing about anything.

            My response is that they can only track your movements on campus, where school officials are responsible for knowing where you are at any given moment.

            They shouldn’t be responsible for knowing where the kids are, and they should not try. There’s a reason school children are treated like livestock and it sure as shit isn’t for their benefit.

            that’s not the issue here.

            You keep strawmanning me and then you deign to tell me what’s at issue here? Stop arguing with the voices in your head. RFID tags are tracking devices. Making people (especially kids) wear tracking devices is demoralizing — I would even say dehumanizing. Everything else you’re arguing about? Not relevant to what I’m saying.

  19. spacedoggy says:

    the costs of rfid are next to nothing. I got a 20 tags on stickers for 20c each, so I’m sure it you’re buying thousands in bulk it cant be more than a few hundred dollars for a lifetimes supply for a school. same with the readers, arduino+rfid reader 100 bucks. I can hardly see the costs quoted in the video standing to scrutiny (unless someone’s on the take)

  20. Alan says:

    First – I think the RFID tags are silly and probably not worth the cost.  I’m sure that Northside ISD in San Antonio had a visitor from a vendor convince them they need it more than they really do.

    Second – anything “Alex Jones” or “InfoWars” is a red flag for hyperbole. Not criticizing what he does or believes – just stating that it goes a bit over the top from time to time.

    Third – if parents are outraged, more than 12 would show up for a protest.  At my kids’ one middle school there were easily 100 pissed off parents about school uniforms.  12 for a whole school district?  Meh.

    Fourth – Ditto RFID chips comments from above.  Yeah, they track, but they are the lowest level possible, short of a punch-clock in every room.  Predatory stalkers can’t take advantage of them easily.  No one can track who you associate with.  If you decide to skip school, you give it to your buddies who check you into your classes – oops.  

    Fifth – was the student denied the opportunity to vote for homecoming royalty because she refused to have the RFID chip, or because she was obligated to show a current student ID?

    • ocker3 says:

       Wait, weren’t we all up in arms about RFID chips in passports, what happened to that? If these cards can be read from 5 feet away, isn’t there a potential for remote reading? I do question the 5 feet thing (mentioned above), the only RFID readers I’ve seen in ID cards (for corporate office access and transport cards) really only work when you touch the card to the reader or get it Really close. I keep my transport card inside my wallet, if I open my wallet the reader can pickup my card as there’s only a thin layer of leather between them, but if the wallet is closed and there are more leather/cloth layers and other (non-RFID) cards in the way, it can’t ready it.

  21. Navin_Johnson says:

    “Info Wars” “Texas”

    If only there could have been a UFO/NRA angle to really put the icing on the cake….

  22. donovan acree says:

    Let’s go ahead and accept RFID tracking as ok. Why not?

    A few years from now, a better inexpensive tech will allow tracking via active radio devices. It will have more capabilities and help the school with more in depth metrics. It won’t be long before they become ubiquitous and mandatory. Children and parents will accept the new trackers after RFID reaches saturation and becomes common place. Once fully conditioned to accept this kind of tracking, new technology will allow even greater tracking capability.And there’s the rub. Even the ignorant are aware that once a system is in place, removing it is almost impossible no matter how badly it’s abused. The fact is, once you go down this road it will grow and grow, abuse will take place, and solutions will be presented to ‘fix’ the problem created years ago by acceptance of this sort of thing. These solutions will be better systems that are harder to abuse. Of course, nothing is fool proof so that’s sure to fail – especially when the real solution is to ban tracking of individuals by private parties or without a warrant by government entities. It need to be done now, before it’s too late.The TSA sounded like a good idea at first. Now it is a multi billion dollar cash cow and is here to stay despite continued abuse and criminal activity on behalf of the TSA.

  23. Saltine says:

    I work at a university where we recently had to listen to a pitch from an RFID shill. I think most of the RFID use you’re seeing in schools is coming from administrators who are drinking the Kool-Aid these pitchmen are peddling. This guy promised us the moon. Attendance would be automagic, data would go into our databases, and in this process students would become smarter. And money would fall from the sky like a gentle spring rain. Not only that but pop-up menus! phone apps! whizmabang! razzamatazz!

    It was particularly enjoyable because none of the shit he wanted to demo would actually work. He was showing us a Powerpoint that made it look like there was a functional demo occurring. And the administrators, most of whom are as dumb as a bag of rocks, were sitting there “Ooh! Tell us more!” and looking back at the faculty as if to say “Isn’t this the koolest thing you’ve every seen in your whole life?”

    Seriously. My university has spent money on every dumb piece of crap to come down the pike. All the salesman has to do is say “Web 2.0″ and make some false promises about enrollment and learning, and he’s got a sale. It’s sad, really. I believe it’s a product of the post-80s uptick in VPs, deanlets, and all the other admin-overhead. Most of those folks have MBAs or EdDs, degrees which you might as well get in a cereal box for all they’re really worth. It’s sad, like a real-life, academic version of Upper Class Twit of the Year.

    And from what I see, most public school districts are even worse than this.

  24. Sean Nelson says:

    Read Daemon by Daniel Suarez – You’ll never want to wear an RFID tag again;  set up an explosive that sits dormant until the victim with the right tag comes by.  

    Sure, it’s far-fetched in that use, but I guarantee students, advertisers, and other actors will find a way to exploit the information produced here.

    • Don says:

      I can imagine an attacker who wants to build a bomb that explodes if, say, 10 RFID-equipped American passports are nearby.  (And so I own a Faraday bag for my passport.)

      I can’t imagine the same threat triggered off a high school student’s ID.  That scenario would require an attacker who wants to kill students from a particular high school, which is a strange motive.  Or if the target is one specific student, the attacker would need access to school records to know which ID goes with the target student.  All to murder one person who, presumably, is easy to get to by conventional means.  It wouldn’t be believable as a movie plot.

      Advertisers would be in the same boat; at best they have an automated sign that responds when someone from that high school walks by.  This hurts the student how?

      • IronEdithKidd says:

        Re: blowing up kids. Just a thought, but there are other types of bombs besides the firey/explody sort. Stink bombs, paint bombs, etc. come to mind. Exactly the kind of thing devious or vindictive kids might explore building. And if you think high school students aren’t smart enough to exploit RFID for their own petty purposes, then I say you gravely underestimate the destructive power of American youth.

        [edit] Removed double negative. Sorry, too little sleep. Damn you, Tigers.

        • Don says:

          Certainly I agree high school students will sometimes do disgusting pranks.  I just think using RFID to do it seems overdone.  There are way too many moving parts to be a serious threat—as opposed to all the other ways kids could think of to torment other kids, that don’t require elaborate technology.  Fill a bucket with something nasty a la Carrie, pull a rope—no need to hack the school’s database or anything.

          I’ll change my mind if there’s a realistic threat here, I just don’t see one yet.

          • random says:

            Shouldn’t be necessary to hack the school’s database to identify a particular student… Just scan them surreptitiously one day, build your RFID triggered prank device to target them the next. Maybe not as practical if you want to target a group, but probably the easiest way for an individual.

          • Don says:

            OK, I concede that’s possible.  Maybe you know a teenager willing to plan this far ahead; I don’t, yet.

      • You assume a specific target and not maximum damage as the motive. The boys from Columbine weren’t targeting any specific person. All technologies have the potential to be misused, saying otherwise is wishful thinking. That isn’t a reason to ban the technology but to be vigilant and call out when people are using them in ways that are harmful.

        I’m against this sort of tracking because it’s dehumanizing and school already treat children like criminals far too often (which I honestly believe is a good part of why so many schools are so bad, it has a psychological impat to be treated like that) more than I worry about the information it gathers. The information gathered is likely harmless, the effect of constant monitoring and suspicion is not.

      • Antinous / Moderator says:

        That scenario would require an attacker who wants to kill students from a particular high school, which is a strange motive.

        You don’t watch the news much, do you?

  25. Corso says:

    Infowars?  Seriously? 

  26. chuck says:

    Schools get funding based on attendance. But schools are also held responsible for when a student does not attend. If a student does not show up, the school must contact the parent to inform them. If they didn’t (inform the parent) and the student went missing, (got abducted, ran-away, or just went somewhere else) the school could be liable if/when the parent finds out what’s happening.

    So it’s important that the school keep accurate attendance records. RFID tags are a somewhat extreme example — and I’d imagine, because of the relatively short-range of the RFID signal, they’d need to have many, many repeater stations around the school (at all exits, in all classrooms, at regular intervals in hallways) if they really wanted to keep track of a student’s position. And a kid could simply wrap a bit of tin-foil around the tag if they wanted to disappear.

    It’s more likely the school would simply have a RFID receiver station in the classroom, and tell the students to tag themselves in when they enter the class. Failure to tag would count as an unexplained absence.

  27. pKp says:

    The other thing is…aside from all the privacy angle, which I find personnally creepy, there’s also the little fact that these will never work as intented.

    Kids break stuff. They lose stuff. They forget stuff at home. Short of an actual, honest-to-Satan body implant (in the forehead, prefferably), these things will NOT work as intended, and so the system won’t be efficient because it will produce too many false positive (that is, there will be a ton of kids who read as absent in the system and are actually present).

    BUT but but…the interesting thing is that over-reliance on tech will lead to administrators becoming more complacent. They’ll stop showing up at the main door in the morning, because the kids will be beeping in, and more and more teachers will stop taking attendance, and you’ll end up with good attendance stats but no actual idea wether one of your pupils is skipping more and more classes and edging towards dropping out.

    Not to mention that expecting (most) school admins to understand, administrate and properly use ANY computer-based system is a fool’s errand.

    I’d be willing to bet that the people who most hate this system right now are the lower-level admins and hall monitors. And that’s probably why it will flop : because it sucks as an idea, and the implementation probably does too.

    Source : I work in a small European high school and we’re currently transitioning to a computer-based system to track attendance, among other things. It’s pretty neat, but it’s still a headache from time to time.

    TL;DR : School admins suck at computers, students suck at not losing stuff : this project is both stupid and doomed (not mentioning creepy as fuck).

  28. Dennis Smith says:

    Is this a viral ad for Little Brother/Homecoming?

  29. hazmat says:

    Public school (which includes charter schools) funding in Texas is based on Average Daily Attendance. Fraud in relation to this is criminal, which the school administration would probably push down to the teacher (all of the accountability, none of the pay!). Any time spent on taking attendance is time that can’t be spent teaching. Since the teacher could be charged with a crime for doing it wrong, you can be sure that they will take extra effort to get it right- just scanning the classroom and marking things down is a pretty sure way to get fired and/or fined. All the non education related procedures individually seem tiny, but they add up to a significant portion of classroom time.

    • Antinous / Moderator says:

      Texas has made an art form of school fraud. In order to look good under No Child Left Behind, Texas school districts routinely listed drop-outs as transfers to another district.
      http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/education/dropout-nation/how-private-schools-help-lower-texas-dropout-numbers/

      • hazmat says:

        That’s not Texas, that’s some principals in Texas committing fraud breaking the law. But I can see the reasoning behind the fraud, which has its roots in NCLB. They tried to game a system that is weighted against them, and they lost.

        My wife is a teacher in Texas and I see how messed up NCLB’s premise of accountability (with no resources) is fundamentally flawed. For example, if a child is profoundly disabled (traumatic brain injury, fetal alcohol syndrome, etc.) the standards are *EXACTLY* the same when it comes to NCLB numbers and being labeled as a failing school.  Good enrollment and attendance numbers means you might be able to pay your teachers. If your population has a high number of special needs kids, know how much extra money you get? Exactly $0.00, though you are legally mandated (federal law) to provide services. You just hope that you have enough ‘normal’ kids so you can afford to give everyone what they need to succeed. You can apply for grants, but without a consistent source of funds, you’re not going to attract quality teachers- those that want to make teaching a career- not just a lark 2nd vocation. (Don’t get me into “Teach for America”- just look at how many TFA teachers actually are still teaching just 2 years later). 

        If you happen to be in school district with a good tax base, you are in good shape- if not, you’re just screwed, no matter what they might try to level the field (AKA “Robin Hood”).

  30. James Penrose says:

    “She added: “I walk home. Dangerous offenders can pick up on my signal.””  More than a bit of hysterical “Pedophiles are everywhere” (Especially funny since this is a Catholic school so she may well have cassock-wearing abusers around her daily.) but the basic paranoia is sound.  If it’s built into their student ID, just wrap it in foil or get an RF shielded wallet if you don’t feel like microwaving it.  (I’m just paranoid enough to wonder how long it will take before some vendor adds a tiny dosimeter or something that would indicate this has been done like Apple’s little tattle-tale moisture sensors.)

    Any sound websites on disabling this stuff properly?

    • Don says:

       A wallet that doubles as a Faraday cage would disable reading your RFID-enabled stuff, until you chose to have it read.  That would go a long way toward eliminating the threat of attackers trying to read your RFIDs if, for example, you’re using an RFID-enabled object to pay for stuff (which you shouldn’t willingly do).  Search the BoingBoing archives for “Jessica Faraday.”  I don’t know whether she’s tested her product.

  31. Guest says:

    What I like about people being tagged is that they realize they are being treated like cattle – and when they manage to get rid of the tagging policy, a few of them will realize they still are being treated like cattle (though free-range cattle).

  32. Why not just stapling bright yellow tags to the students’ ears,  just like you do your cattle?

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