Tuesday, May 03, 2005

RFID opt out bill would protect students

Will Dallas ISD follow the Spring school district to put electronic tracking devices in student IDs, now that Spring chief Michael Hinojosa has been named superintendent of Dallas schools? If so, the Lege might want to go ahead and pass HB 2953 by Rep. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham, which is up today on the better-late-than-never-docket in the House Public Education Committee. That bill would at least create an opt out for those who object.

Personally, I prefer a complete ban on using electronic trackers on children. It's just creepy and invasive, or as one Spring student told the New York Times, "It's just too Big Brother for me."

Last fall, Spring ISD made national headlines with its decision to install Radio Frequency Identicaton Devices (RFIDs) in student ID cards. RFIDs are small radio transponders that emit a signal which may be tracked with an attuned receiver. Walmart uses them to track inventory, so it was only a matter of time before some totalitarian bureaucrat decided to use it to track kids and people. As Kuff put it, why don't you "just implant the chip in my head and be done with it"?

In California, a school district scuttled a RFID ID program after similar complaints were made by ACLU of Northern California and the Electronic Privacy Information Center:

According to the groups, the RFID device transmits private information to a computer on campus whenever a student passes under one of the scanners. The ID badges, which students are required to wear around their necks at all times, also include the student’s name, photo, grade, school name, class year and the four-digit school ID number.

"Monitoring children with RFID tags is a very bad idea," said C├ędric Laurant, Policy Counsel with EPIC. "It treats children like livestock or shipment pallets, thereby breaching their right to dignity and privacy they have as human beings. Any small gain in administrative efficiency and security is not worth the money spent and the privacy and dignity lost."

RFIDs were criticized for actually posing new safety concerns for students, rather than making them more secure. Said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California, "RFID badges jeopardize the safety and security of children by broadcasting identity and location information to anyone with a chip reader and subject students to demeaning tracking of their movements."

Kolkhorst attached an identical amendment to HB 2, the big school finance bill, but the American Electronics Association hopes to strip off the language in the conference committee. Since the House already voted for her language once, maybe it can sail on through even though it's awfully late in the game. House bills must be voted off the floor by the end of next week, so any legislation just now receiving a hearing is a little late out of the starting gate. I'm glad Kolkhorst is still pushing it, though, and if HB 2953 doesn't make it in time, I sure hope her colleagues assist her in protecting the amendment on HB 2.

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