RFID in School - Embracing the Future?

Did you know that HB 501 for the next session of the Texas legislature has something to say about RFID chips in Texas schools? More information below.

Boy displays number on his arm (Nazi Identification System)
Image Source: http://dtsdapache.hershey.k12.pa.us/wpmu/hs_eng9/2011/05/30/what-happens-next/
Although I've read apocalypse books (e.g. Tim LaHaye's and Jerry Jenkins' LeftBehind series) as fiction, I know that many hold them to be as gospel. One of the frightening aspects of fiction like this is that it's so easy to absorb into our consciousness, and use it to shape our future actions. That's the power of a "good yarn," and why storytelling engages us so deeply. That's not to say that gospel is fiction, only that our fictionalization of gospel can introduce more worldly elements even as it augments the divine. One of the key elements of apocalyptic version is the number of the Beast, which is reflected in the Book of Revelations (13:15-17) in this way:

The second beast...forced all people, great and small, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hands or on their foreheads, 17 so that they could not buy or sell unless they had the mark, which is the name of the beast or the number of its name.
18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.

Whether it's the brand of the Beast or a number on your arm, there are profound cultural and religious implications for tracking human beings in this way, aren't there?

Book Jacket The Number on My Grandfathers Arm by David A. Adler with family photographs by Rose Eichenbaum. UAHC Press: New York, 1987. 
Brief overview:This book, illustrated with photographs, is about a 7 year old girl who learns about her grandfathers experiences as a Holocaust survivor. She notices the numbers tattooed on his arm and begins to ask her grandfather questions. He tells her about the rise of Adolf Hitlerand the effects on the Jewish people. A discussion of the concentration campofAuschwitzis also discussed. (Source: Book read at Voorhees MS)
RFID chips present an evolution from barcodes and numbers tattooed on people's arms:
A significant advantage of RFID devices over the others mentioned above is that the RFID device does not need to be positioned precisely relative to the scanner. We're all familiar with the difficulty that store checkout clerks sometimes have in making sure that a barcode can be read. And obviously, credit cards and ATM cards must be swiped through a special reader.In contrast, RFID devices will work within a few feet (up to 20 feet for high-frequency devices) of the scanner. For example, you could just put all of your groceries or purchases in a bag, and set the bag on the scanner. It would be able to query all of the RFID devices and total your purchase immediately.  (Source: Technovelgy)
"When RFID chips are embedded in your ID cards, your clothes, your possessions, you are effectively broadcasting who you are to anyone within range," he said. "The level of surveillance possible, not only by the government but by corporations and criminals as well, will be unprecedented. There simply will be no place to hide."
But Mark Roberti, editor of RFID Journal, a trade publication that claims independence from the RFID industry, said the long-term convenience and cost-savings outweighs the potential pitfalls. "Technology is neither good nor evil," Roberti wrote in an e-mail responding to questions from CNN. "Technology is a tool. All technologies can be used in positive or negative ways. (Source: Daniel Sieberg, CNN)

RFID chips can also be "digestible," which introduces some interesting applications for travellers:
The edible/digestible RFID tags (more on this below) would be placed directly into food items. At what proportions and levels is not yet quite clear.
The edible tags could hold information about where the food was grown or shipped from, what the ingredients are, how far it has traveled, its expiration date, what the nutritional content is, and more. Harms calls the idea " embedding data in food." (Source: NutriSmart Prototype)
We end up with a way of tracking human beings that doesn't involve tattoos at all or any pain, but RFID chips may be seen as the first step towards something more nefarious, such as embedding RFID chips in one's skin or body, or swallowing them as digestible ways of tracking people. Did you take your RFID pill this morning?
San Antonio Northside School District aka Big Brother wastes education money, RFID student tracking, Student expelled for refusing to wear tracking chip. “Increased attendance = increased state revenues”…San Antonio Northside School District “In Northside ISD, it’s not about the technology. It’s about the bottom line – our children – and what the technology does for NISD students and staff.”…Northside School District 2010 bond referendum (Source: CitizenWells)
The bottom line adds up to quite a bit:
The school dis­trict esti­mates the [RFID] sys­tem, if imple­mented in all 112 dis­trict schools, will cost $526,000 to imple­ment and about $135,000 a year after that, but will result in an addi­tional $1.7 mil­lion in state fund­ing for the district. (Source: Logarchism)
While many of us wouldn't blink at tagging our pets, tagging humans is another matter altogether, inspiring rabid responses that seem to flow from our lizard brain rather than a reasoning mind. Don't get me wrong--I think it's perfectly reasonable to oppose RFID tagging of human beings. Situations that may make it appear acceptable (but are not) include:
  • Children in school - Being able to track any population is beneficial and some have made the argument for tracking children this way, such as large urban school districts who place tags in students' name badges.
  • Disenfranchised persons in Refugee Camps - If you tagged refugees when they have left their home, being able to track people--and perhaps even obtain more information about them--via RFID makes "people management" easier.
  • Issue digestible RFID chips to travellers (e.g. airplane, train) that "expire" or are expelled after a certain time period, presumably the length of the flight.
What do you think? Should embracing technology in all aspects of life involve the use of RFID chips for placement on, in, or about human beings?

Do you agree with HB 501 to be discussed by the Texas Legislature and to become effective September 1, 2013?

       SECTION 1.  Subchapter Z, Chapter 25, Education Code, is
amended by adding Section 25.902 to read as follows:
METHODS PROHIBITED.  (a)  In this section, "radio frequency
identification technology" means a wireless identification system
that uses an electromagnetic radio frequency signal to transmit
data without physical contact between a card, badge, or tag and
another device.
       (b)  A school district may not require a student to use an
identification device that uses radio frequency identification
technology or similar technology to identify the student, transmit
information regarding the student, or track the location of the
       (c)  A school district may allow the voluntary use of a
student identification device described by Subsection (b) only if
authorized by resolution adopted by the board of trustees of the
district.  A district that allows the voluntary use of a student
identification device described by Subsection (b) shall provide an
alternative method of identification for a student on the timely
written request of a student's parent or guardian.
       (d)  A school district may not penalize a student using an
alternative method of identification under Subsection (c),
including restricting or prohibiting the student from
participating in school or district activities.
       SECTION 2.  This Act applies beginning with the 2013-2014
school year.
       SECTION 3.  This Act takes effect immediately if it receives
a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house, as
provided by Section 39, Article III, Texas Constitution.  If this
Act does not receive the vote necessary for immediate effect, this
Act takes effect September 1, 2013.

Curious about what other bills are up for discussion during the 2013 Texas legislature session? Check out this Texas Tribune "map" of topics.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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