RFID chips for Texas students

Is this a story of the nanny state gone (further) awry, a community ensuring the safety of at risk children, or just a group of bureaucrats trying to glam onto some extra cash? The San Antonio Times brings us the story of a school district which will begin “tracking” students in middle and high school using RFID chips. What could possibly go wrong?

Northside Independent School District plans to track students next year on two of its campuses using technology implanted in their student identification cards in a trial that could eventually include all 112 of its schools and all of its nearly 100,000 students…

Northside, the largest school district in Bexar County, plans to modify the ID cards next year for all students attending John Jay High School, Anson Jones Middle School and all special education students who ride district buses. That will add up to about 6,290 students.

Sounds positively Orwellian, doesn’t it? In fact, that’s precisely one of the words which Lee DeCovnick uses at The American Thinker to describe this new intrusion into American privacy.

Farmers currently use chips to track cattle and hogs. RFID is also commonly used for tracking store retail inventories and monitoring vehicle access to gated properties. Now that we have the technology, we’re “chipping” our children for money and their supposed safety? Orwell and Huxley must be outraged that their warnings have gone so unheeded.

DeCovnick is additionally concerned because these aren’t the old school, passive RFID tags which have to be pulsed by a transmitter to give up their data. These newer models have batteries installed and actually transmit data which could, in theory, be picked up by strangers, predators, etc. It’s a valid point. But if they are closely monitoring who has access to the data and they’re going to be tracking the kids only to make sure that evil persons don’t carry them away, then…

Oh, wait.

District officials said the Radio Frequency Identification System (RFID) tags would improve safety by allowing them to locate students — and count them more accurately at the beginning of the school day to help offset cuts in state funding, which is partly based on attendance.

Okay… so they’re installing the system to qualify for a system whereby – if they can show how many students are showing up for school and how many are riding the bus – the district will take in a big additional chunk of state funds. (Far more than the cost of implementing and running the not inexpensive tracking system.) But as long as they’re improving safety by monitoring the movements of the children and could follow the perps if they are abducted too, then at least some good will still…

Oh wait. Again.

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, Gonzalez said.

“This way we can see if a student is at the nurse’s office or elsewhere on campus, when they normally are counted for attendance in first period,” he said.

On the one hand, I’m not sure how much of a privacy issue I want to make of this if and only if the parents approve and find some value in it. Their decisions about the safety of their children override the concerns of the students in a case like this. But I’m also not sure how much extra safety they are getting out of the deal in exchange for the potential anxiety being induced. And more than anything, it looks like the schools are simply looking for a way to qualify for bigger cuts of the tax dollar pie by proving how many bodies they can shove into the classrooms each week.

So what do you think? Privacy issue? Funding scheme? Too much? Not enough?

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