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Education Reporter

Concern Grows Over ID Data Systems and Tracking
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Student IDs are assuming a greater role with the application of barcodes, magnetic strips, smart chips, and radio frequency identification (RFID). With technology advances, identification cards and badges can function as data transmitters, receivers, storage devices, or access keys. These uses increase the potential to jeopardize personal safety and privacy, as technologies allow faster and easier expanded collection of data that is shared among local, state, federal, and even international entities — thereby increasing the numbers of those with access to private records.

GAO findings 
A May 2005 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled Information Security: Radio Frequency Identification Technology in the Federal Government cited a variety of troubling issues regarding the use of RFID - issues that may apply similarly to barcodes, magnetic strips, smart chips, and other technology applied to ID cards to collect, store, transmit, or access electronic data:

"The security of tags and databases raises important considerations concerning the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the data on the tags, in the databases, and how this information is being protected . . . Among the key privacy issues are notifying individuals of the existence or use of the technology; tracking an individual's movements; profiling an individual's habits, tastes or predilections; and allowing for secondary uses of information." (GAO 05-55, www.gao.gov/new.items/d05551.pdf)

Data collection and monitoring  
Not so apparent are the "other uses" for high-tech student data card systems. An identification card with a unique student number — combined with a card reader and specialized software - functions as an essential tool for lifelong data collections, storage, retrieval, and monitoring of an individual's activities.

Student ID cards/badges, containing technology that stores a student identification number, can link a child with activities where "card readers" or "scanners" are used to collect and feed data into the system: meal purchases, library book checkouts, campus and classroom entrance/exits, etc.

A Request for Proposal titled "Student ID Badge System" by Arizona's second largest school district - Tucson Unified - explains the data card system the district is attempting to establish. The section "Special Terms and Conditions for Proposals" reads as follows:

"It is the intention of the Tucson Unified School District to purchase a comprehensive School Identification Badge System that will provide the necessary tools for creating cards and storing student identification data common to a high school. The program must meet printing, photograph and database needs for student activities requiring such identification. The preferred candidate will provide for the option of centralized storage and archival of student digital images that may be shared across different schools and imported into the student information system database." (RFP #7195, 3-2004)

In a March 25, 2004 Addendum to the proposal, the following Program Components were identified: digital camera, single or multiple database, barcoding, magnetic strip cards (option), variable size printer, and a computer (self-provided). In addition to equipment requirements, the Addendum cited a need for "continuous training and support for staff" to include "How the system works, its capabilities, and how to utilize appropriate student data import utilities and reports."

Tagging, Tracking in California 
Parents with middle school students in the Britain Elementary School District (BESD) in Sutter, California were alarmed to find radio frequency identification (RFID) used with the ID badges their children were required to wear as of January 18, 2005.

RFID technology allowed the school to monitor campus movements of the 160 enrolled students. This is not unlike the tagging and tracking done with agricultural livestock, pets, and wild animals, as well as product inventories.

Scanners were installed outside seventh and eighth grade classrooms and cafeteria bathrooms. As students wearing the ID badges passed a scanner, each child's assigned 15-digit number was recorded and then sent to a server located in the school administrative office where the numbers were translated into names.

The names were then relayed to the teacher's Personal Digital Assistant (PDA), whereupon the list would be checked against the students in the class.

The ID badges on lanyards were part of a pilot test for the InClass system. InCom, a company that markets the system had approached the BESD principal and superintendent with a donation of a couple thousand dollars, as well as a profit-sharing plan. (Wired News, 2-11-05)

A statement by Cedric Laurant with the Electronic Privacy Information Center explains: "Monitoring children with radio frequency identification (RFID) tags . . . 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." (CNET News, 2-17-2005)

Parents expressed outrage over the invasive activity at a BESD school board meeting, and also lodged a formal complaint with the board. Subsequently, InCom withdrew the project.

Tracking in Texas and Florida 
High-tech tracking has also taken place in the Spring Independent School District in Texas. SISD's 28,000 students were given ID badges with RFID chips that are read as each child enters and exits the school bus. A wireless phone then relays information to police and school administrators. (New York Times, 11-17-2004)

In Florida, 45,000 students riding school buses in Pinellas County had their fingerprints encrypted into a binary number linked to their school ID number. Buses were equipped with digital fingerprint scanners, communications equipment, software, and GPS satellite locators. The combined technologies allowed drivers and students to be tracked. (St. Petersburg Times, 2-28-2004; Texas Innovator, 5-2004)

ID card technologies are used under the pretense of safety and security. But a closer look at the capabilities of data card systems and their uses in schools reveals an unsettling application to collect, store, and share information. Given the growing incidents of electronic record security breaches (see p.4: "Personal Data Compromised in 2005"), parents are asking whether the loss of privacy, dignity, and freedom is a fair exchange for what is merely an illusion of safety and security.

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