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CHICAGO - MARCH 30:  Mark Raymond of Precisia displays a sheet of flexigraphic printed antennae used in radio frequency identification (RFID) labels at the RFID Journal Live trade show March 30, 2004 in Chicago, Illinois. RFID technology is being adopted by retailers, manufacturers and the Department of Defense for Identification, inventory and product flow tracking.  (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A California school district is using some $115,000 of federal stimulus money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to have kids wear vests with RFID chips embedded so their every move inside the school complex can be monitored.

A report from TechNewsDaily cites the work of the Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services agency, which already has spent $50,000 setting up the system for a first Head Start site.

“We did some research and we thought this would be a good utilization for the money,” Karen Mitchoff, an agency spokeswoman, told TechNews Daily.

The action has raised some alarms among privacy advocates, but also met a qualified endorsement from a columnist at the RFID Journal.

There, Mark Roberti wrote, “I think it is fair to say that there are several good reasons to use RFID to track school children. But I was struck by a New York Times editorial on the topic … that was unusually balanced for an article about RFID. The editors wrote, ‘Concern that school officials would use the ID chips to keep tabs on children’s behavior – and tag them perhaps as hyperactive or excessively passive – seems overwrought.’ But it also asks the question, ‘Though it may seem innocuous to attach a chip to our preschoolers’ clothes, do we really want to raise a generation of kids that are accustomed to being tracked, like cattle or warehouse inventory?”

He continued, “This is a profound question. If we track all children with technology and they get used to it, do we open the possibility that they will accept government tracking of them as adults?”

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At TechNewsDaily, Linda Rosencrance said Mitchoff explained that the program would free up teachers from having to fulfill administrative duties such as attendance – and recording when children eat.

“This just helps us to know where that child is at all times,” Mitchoff said. “Not that the teachers wouldn’t know where they are. It’s just an assist to teachers. It frees up teachers to spend more time with students and less time on paperwork, attendance and meal schedules.”

According to Rosencrance’s report, a parent or someone signs a child into the system on arrival in the morning. The child then is given a jersey with an RFID – or tracking – device embedded. The tab transmits data to various receivers around the school, and computers monitor the child’s movements and activities.

TechNewsDaily said Marc Rotenberg of the Electric Privacy Information Center in Washington told Rosencrance there are concerns about the procedure.

“Up until now these tracking devices have been used for farm animals or house pets. Now a school district thinks it’s a good idea to tag children,” he warned.

He said there are several possible ramifications.

“If you get into the scenario of stalkers and pedophiles, now it’s possible to determine when a child is outside the classroom and that can pose a real threat,” he told TechNewsDaily. “These systems generate location information and they can create audit logs, so the information is not just available in real time but historic information as well. From our perspective that will create privacy risks because parents will be wondering, ‘Who, apart from me, knows where my child is at any particular moment.’”

The report said Rebecca Jeschke of the Electronic Frontier Foundation also worries that any information from the system would be misused.

“You could have what would appear to be a very complete picture of a child’s movements,” she said. “If a child is moving around all the time, will administrators label him hyperactive? And will that information follow that child through high school?”

Mitchoff reported that the program, for now, gives parents the opportunity to keep their child out of the system.


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