California Company Pulls out of Program to Track Student Movements

February 16, 2005 12:00 am

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Parents and Civil Liberties Groups Said Program Violated Privacy Rights

SAN FRANCISCO – The Sutter-based company InCom announced last night at a packed special school district meeting that it would end its pilot program to require students to wear Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) badges that track the students’ movements. The decision came after the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), and the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) urged school officials to end the program after being contacted by several parents.

“We are pleased that InCom is pulling out – our children never should have been tagged like pieces of inventory or cattle,” said Michele Tatro, one of the parents that fought to end the tracking program. “The RFID tags violated the students’ privacy, and they were demeaning and put them in danger.”

“This is a tremendous victory for the students and families of Sutter,” said Nicole Ozer, Technology and Civil Liberties Policy Director of the ACLU of Northern California. “However, this is not just an issue affecting school children. The potential use of RFIDs in other identity documents, such as driver’s licenses and medical cards, should be of concern to all Californians. RFIDs in identity documents is an issue that requires a statewide response and we plan to encourage legislative action on this front.”

In a letter sent on February 7, the civil liberties and privacy groups called on the Brittan School District to immediately end the use of RFIDs in student IDs. 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 Cédric 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.”

Sutter resident Dawn Cantrall, who has a child in the 7th grade, added: “We are proud that we stopped it here in Sutter and we will continue to fight to make sure that no child is ever forced to have an RFID badge. As parents, it is our duty to keep our children safe and it is not safe to have tracking devices in student badges.”

Dawn and her husband Michael Cantrall filed a formal complaint against the Brittan Elementary School Board on January 30 after meeting with several school officials. Like other parents, the Cantralls only learned about the program, which was introduced on January 18, when their child came home wearing the tracking device.

“We’re happy for the kids in Sutter, and grateful to those parents who stood up for family privacy and security. We hope it will be a wake-up call to parents and kids across the nation,” said Lee Tien of EFF.

For a copy of the letter sent by the civil liberties groups, go to: http://www.aclunc.org/students/050207-privacyltr.pdf

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