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I'm not ready for a barcode on my forehead

I'm too astonished and horrified to write much about this. Assuming we have any civil liberties left in ten years, I hope some of these children sue have a really stern talk with their parents for putting them through such a thing.

How the heck can these people think this is okay? And why doesn't it surprise me at all that it's occurring in Texas?

From The New York Times, preserved below for posterity.

In Texas, 28,000 Students Test an Electronic Eye

"...they do see broader possibilities, such as implanting RFID tags under the skin of children."

Ethicists should be jumping all over this with both feet, demanding disclosure documents with informed consent -- I just can't believe that no parents objected. More than anything, that stuns me. It teaches no personal responsibility whatsoever.

Remember what I said after the news of the election about the ACLU needing all the funding they can get? I never wanted to be right about that, but it sure seems that I am.

November 17, 2004
In Texas, 28,000 Students Test an Electronic Eye

SPRING, Tex. - In front of her gated apartment complex, Courtney Payne, a 9-year-old fourth grader with dark hair pulled tightly into a ponytail, exits a yellow school bus. Moments later, her movement is observed by Alan Bragg, the local police chief, standing in a windowless control room more than a mile away.

Chief Bragg is not using video surveillance. Rather, he watches an icon on a computer screen. The icon marks the spot on a map where Courtney got off the bus, and, on a larger level, it represents the latest in the convergence of technology and student security.

Hoping to prevent the loss of a child through kidnapping or more innocent circumstances, a few schools have begun monitoring student arrivals and departures using technology similar to that used to track livestock and pallets of retail shipments.

Here in a growing middle- and working-class suburb just north of Houston, the effort is undergoing its most ambitious test. The Spring Independent School District is equipping 28,000 students with ID badges containing computer chips that are read when the students get on and off school buses. The information is fed automatically by wireless phone to the police and school administrators.

In a variation on the concept, a Phoenix school district in November is starting a project using fingerprint technology to track when and where students get on and off buses. Last year, a charter school in Buffalo began automating attendance counts with computerized ID badges - one of the earliest examples of what educators said could become a widespread trend.

At the Spring district, where no student has ever been kidnapped, the system is expected to be used for more pedestrian purposes, Chief Bragg said: to reassure frantic parents, for example, calling because their child, rather than coming home as expected, went to a friend's house, an extracurricular activity or a Girl Scout meeting.

When the district unanimously approved the $180,000 system, neither teachers nor parents objected, said the president of the board. Rather, parents appear to be applauding. "I'm sure we're being overprotective, but you hear about all this violence," said Elisa Temple-Harvey, 34, the parent of a fourth grader. "I'm not saying this will curtail it, or stop it, but at least I know she made it to campus."

The project also is in keeping with the high-tech leanings of the district, which built its own high-speed data network and is outfitting the schools with wireless Internet access. A handful of companies have adapted the technology for use in schools.

But there are critics, including some older students and privacy groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who argue that the system is security paranoia.

The decades-old technology, called radio frequency identification, or RFID, is growing less expensive and developing vast new capabilities. It is based on a computer chip that has a unique number programmed into it and contains a tiny antenna that sends information to a reader.

The same technology is being used by companies like Wal-Mart to track pallets of retail items. Pet owners can have chips embedded in cats and dogs to identify them if they are lost.

In October, the Food and Drug Administration approved use of an RFID chip that could be implanted under a patient's skin and would carry a number that linked to the patient's medical records.

At the Spring district, the first recipients of the computerized ID badges have been the 626 students of Bammel Elementary school. That includes Felipe Mathews, a 5-year-old kindergartner, and the other 30 students who rode bus No. 38 to school on a recent morning.

Felipe, wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt with a Spiderman logo and blue high-top tennis shoes also with a Spiderman logo, wore his yellow ID badge on a string around his neck. When he climbed on to the bus, he pressed the badge against a flat gray "reader"just inside the bus door. The reader ID beeped.

Shortly after, he was followed onto the bus by Christopher Nunez, a 9-year-old fourth grader. Christopher said it was important that students wore badges so they did not get lost. Asked what might cause someone to get lost, he said, "If they're in second grade they might not know which street is their home."

But on the morning Felipe and Christopher shared a seat on bus No. 38, the district experienced one of the early technology hiccups. When the bus arrived at school, the system had not worked. On the Web site that includes the log of student movements, there was no record that any of the students on the bus had arrived.

It was just one of many headaches; the system had also made double entries for some students, and got arrival times and addresses wrong for others. "It's early glitches," said Brian Weisinger, the head of transportation for the Spring district, adding that he expected to work out the problems.

But for the Enterprise Charter School in Buffalo, where administrators gave ID cards with the RFID technology to around 460 students last year, the computer problems lasted for many months.

The system is set up so that when students walk in the door each morning, they pass by one of two kiosks - which together cost $40,000 - designed to pick up their individual radio frequency numbers as a way of taking attendance. Initially, though, the kiosks failed to register some students, or registered ones who were not there.

Mark Walter, head of technology for the Buffalo school, said the system was working well now. But Mr. Walter cautions that the more ambitious technological efforts in Spring, particularly given the reliance on cellphones to call in the data, are "going to run in to some problems."

In the long run, however, the biggest problem may be human error. Parents, teachers and administrators said their primary worry is getting students to remember their cards, given they often forget such basics as backpacks, lunch money and gym shoes. And then there might be mischief: students could trade their cards.

Still, administrators in Buffalo said they had been contacted by districts around the country, and from numerous other countries, interested in using something similar.

And the administrators in Buffalo and here in Spring said the technology, when perfected, would eventually be a big help. Parents at the Spring district seem to feel the same way. They speak of momentary horrors of realizing their child did not arrive home when expected.

Some older students are not so enthusiastic.

"It's too Big Brother for me," said Kenneth Haines, a 15-year-old ninth grader who is on the football and debate teams. "Something about the school wanting to know the exact place and time makes me feel kind of like an animal."

Middle and high school students already wear ID badges, but they have not yet been equipped with the RFID technology. Even so, some bus drivers are apparently taking advantage of the technology's mythical powers by telling students that they are being tracked on the bus in order to get them to behave better.

Kenneth's opinion is echoed by organizations like the A.C.L.U. and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit group that promotes "digital rights."

It is "naïve to believe all this data will only be used to track children in the extremely unlikely event of the rare kidnapping by a stranger," said Barry Steinhardt, director of the technology and liberty program at the A.C.L.U.

Mr. Steinhardt said schools, once they had invested in the technology, could feel compelled to get a greater return on investment by putting it to other uses, like tracking where students go after school.

Advocates of the technology said they did not plan to go that far. But, they said, they do see broader possibilities, such as implanting RFID tags under the skin of children to avoid problems with lost or forgotten tags. More immediately, they said, they could see using the technology to track whether students attend individual classes.

Mr. Weisinger, the head of transportation at Spring, said that, for now, the district could not afford not to put the technology to use. Chief Bragg said the key to catching kidnappers was getting crucial information within two to four hours of a crime - information such as the last place the child was seen.

"We've been fortunate; we haven't had a kidnapping," Mr. Weisinger said. "But if it works one time finding a student who has been kidnapped, then the system has paid for itself."


( 17 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:26 pm (UTC)
Stay in view, please.
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:48 pm (UTC)
You don't find the actuality of this to be incredibly disturbing?
Nov. 17th, 2004 07:49 pm (UTC)
Dan and I were recently discussing our options for keeping in touch with the kids when they are away from us (ie at school, on the bus, etc.) We might give them a few small walkie talkies that I bought for our recent camp out since they aren't that far away as the crow flies, or possbily investing in one cheap metropcs phone that Owen could keep in his backpack but the school has a no-phone rule. I have an old beeper that might be at least a one way heads up, maybe to tell the kids to turn on the handheld radios. There is even a nifty kid lo-jack type watch that you can buy that lets you track your kid like a car, via the web or phone hat also has an emergency beacon that an older child can set off if they feel in danger, or goes off automatically if the band is cut. If they weren't $300 each I'd probably try them! All the same, I would never go so far as to microchip my kids! At least not under this administration!! I'm ok with an Id card and even a hand scan at school for tracking attendance and lunch money, etc but being able to 'track' my kid (or any person) from a distance because they are emitting a tracking frequency is just a bit too Orwelian for me!!

Remember a few years back when Scully found that chip in her neck on the X-files? Did anyone think "Oh, what a great way to monitor school children?" No they all said "Eww, creepy!!"
Nov. 17th, 2004 10:12 pm (UTC)
Communication is good. I'm all for communication, and hey, walkie talkies are fun. :) We used them in the LA Convention Center at E3 because the center is so concrete-laden that cell phones can't get any reception.

I'm right with you on the under skin "Ewww, creepy!" I mean, I won't even go for that birth control option that has the five year release system because it's a plastic wheel that slips under your skin and just . . . icky! *squirms* Completely outside the Orwellian aspect of it, it just makes me physically squinchy! :)
Nov. 17th, 2004 11:37 pm (UTC)
Well, the article said the kids had badges that contained the chip and I might be ok with that. So long as it could be removed at will. I *am* concerned about where my kids are when I can't see them and I'd probably be ok with my school system tracking them during school hours on the way to and from school (granted, I Love my kids school and the local school system) but I wouldn't want my kids tracked outside of that situation and not without their knowledge. I have visions of letters home stating that my child has been home sick for 3 days and that they will be tracking him to insure I take him to the dr before returning him to school. that's probably TAME compared to the reality of how badly our rights and freedoms could be trampled if the chip was permanent!
Nov. 18th, 2004 12:45 am (UTC)
One of my worries about even having the badges is who has access to the information, and who -could- have access to the information. After knowing several former cops who left their respective forces due to corruption, I just don't have much trust in our police force. I imagine you heard about that police officer who was taking people out into the woods instead of taking them to the station?

Also, and you've probably already thought of this, given your spouse, but think about the stalkers who lie in wait for kids in chat rooms. Now think of even one of them with the skills to hack into the system . . . or, worse yet, work for the police force itself. That stalker now has a better idea of where your child is or will be than he or she would have without the device. Abduct the kid, discard the card, and the child is in danger.

In addition to how much it horrifies me on a privacy front, it also concerns me that people would be lulled into a false sense of security relying on it, and then have something terrible, God forbid, like the above scenario happen.

However, I don't worry at all about your children. I have already seen how much you've taught them, and what good citizens they're turning into. They're gonna be just fine, I have no doubt! :)
Nov. 18th, 2004 02:47 am (UTC)
That's a good point, and up there in the "How badly could this backfire and harm my family instead of help?" category! Of course, the concept that an abductor could track the child and then discard the id tag is more fire for the camp that really want to see these things implanted!

Owen will be headed to a school way out of my line of sight and too far for walkie talkies in 2 years. I hope by then that cell phone technology is cheap enough that I can just add another phone to my cell plan. I'm stubborn enough to fight that part of his ADD IEP waive the phone rule and allow him to carry it in his backpack in case he misses the bus or whatever. Also, there was a kid a year or so ago that befuddled a would be abductor by snapping a picture of the man with his phone-cam as the guy approached him. Smart kid!

As to their manners, I thank you for the kind comment. I know they are good kids and pretty level headed overall, but I think they are still a pack of wild animals when no one is looking :)
Nov. 18th, 2004 07:22 pm (UTC)
I thought about that, with the implants, but didn't go there because I thought of the "eww, yuck" progression from that: someone who would abduct a child probably wouldn't hesitate to, erm, forcibly remove the implant. Additionally, if this sort of thing became widespread, God forbid, there would almost certainly be black market implant removal shops, a la back alley abortion clinics back in the day.

That's really excellent about the child snapping a photo of the man! That's a child who was thinking on his feet!
Nov. 18th, 2004 08:36 pm (UTC)
All I can think of when I hear this stuff is that horribly stupid old sci fi movie where the prisoners swallow a spikey ball thing that both tracks them around the prison and punishes them when they are disobedient!
Nov. 17th, 2004 10:54 pm (UTC)
I read that this morning, you're right, it _is_ horrifying.

A long time ago, I worked in a science museum that had a lot of kids visiting. I saw parents walk in with their kids on _leashes_ every day I worked there. I'm not kidding. It was usually a plastic coiled rope (like a phone cord) made with a loop handle for the parent and a velcro thing to go around the kid's wrist or arm. (Yes, these things are manufactured for that purpose. What kind of weirdo invents a kid leash? What kind of fucked up society buys them by the case?) I saw more than one parent smack their kids for taking it off, and nearly every parent that used the leash would drag the kid around using the leash, as if the child were a recalcitrant dog.

I'm certain this technology is going to be used to jerk kids around as if they are uncooperative animals.

I'm not at all surprised by the support of the parents in that county.

But yes, it's fucking sick.
Nov. 17th, 2004 11:15 pm (UTC)
I had to leash one of my kids, not just the cute little teddy bear themed velcro thing, but an honest to god heavy duty dog harness!He was the kind of kid that would yank his arm free and bolt away from me cackling with glee. He could houdini out of his stroller belts and any high chair strap and I had to buy a special kid proof plastic cover to keep him from unhooking his seat belt in the car! With the harness on, I could buckle stroller and high chair seat belts behind him, through the harness and he couldn't get away. Before I had kids, the concept of leashing a kid was horrific to me, but with this kid in hand, I was happy to be the subject of stares and rude comments because it was better than him getting hit by a car! Thankfully, he was the only one of my kids to get such an over the top discipline! Sheesh, after him I am not sure how I managed to have more kids! All the same, I would never microchip him!
Nov. 18th, 2004 02:18 am (UTC)
For special discipline problems, I can see your point. And I think we agree it's not for every kid out there. Most of the kids that I saw were not like that though...

The sight of kids pausing to look at something, then getting yanked by the wrist to move forward by a parent walking 10 feet ahead with his or her back turned, who wouldn't even bother to look at or talk to the kid was the kind of thing that got me riled up. It was the exact same thing you'd do if your dog had stopped to sniff something while you were walking, just give the leash a jerk and keep walking.
Nov. 18th, 2004 03:01 am (UTC)
Right, I would never suggest that parents should rely on any gadget to do their parenting first! The harness was a last resort for us when we had a seemingly reckless, fearless toddler on our hands. He also managed to sneak out of the house totally naked at the age of 3, climb onto the running board of a delivery van and hide from the driver! The driver took off and thankfully, turned around in the culdesac near my house, where said Darwin award runner-up child fell off. He got banged up a bit and walked home and rang the doorbell. I thought he was in his room! He has more than once run and jumped into deep water at pools because doing the cannonball looks like fun, even though he can't swim. He's gone down staircases face first, punctured his own eardrum with a q-tip, jumped into his bed and ended up with 6 stitches when his face hit the bedframe...it's a wonder he's made it to 8! (well, he's 8 next week so we're hoping he survives!) Teaching your kids how to behave is a large part of parenting, but protecting themselves from their own stupidity is a bigger part than I ever imagined!!
Nov. 18th, 2004 05:11 am (UTC)
Heh, wow! I think you've got a test pilot or a mountaineer on your hands, once he grows up :)
Nov. 18th, 2004 01:21 pm (UTC)
To be honest, he's the kid that makes me a bit worried that someones gonna call child protection! When he had stitches all the hospital staff kept asking him what happened, to see if it jived with my story, or if perhaps *I* had hit him and put the gash on his head! He's been to the ER so often I've joked that they need a frequent shopper card so I can get points back to use toward casts and stitches in the future!

Thankfully, Poison control, my daughter's agency of choice, doesn't track the calls or report to any government agencies!
Nov. 18th, 2004 12:21 am (UTC)

I climbed over and out of everything my mother ever tried to put in. There wasn't a crib that could hold me. Heh heh. Still alive, no kidknappings, fell down the stairs a few times.
Nov. 18th, 2004 07:38 pm (UTC)
*laughs* I used to bump down the stairs on my bum. :)
( 17 comments — Leave a comment )


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