Sunday, February 13, 2005


Students are Sheep(Shit)

Big Brother herds sheep


Mercury News Editorial

An elementary school in a small California town has come up with a perverse way to keep attendance. It has given its students lanyards with electronic transmitters that can track their movements around school.

To that we say, Bah! Not as in humbug, but as in sheep.

Treat kids like sheep, with virtual bells around their necks, and pretty soon they'll start acting like them -- not like young citizens learning their rights and responsibilities.

The devices use radio frequency identification, RFID, a fancy bar-code technology that has been used to keep track of pallets, pets and, yes, livestock.

Now there are plans for more extensive and invasive uses -- passports, prisons and schools, with serious privacy implications.

The co-founder of InCom, the local company that provided Brittan Elementary with its new system, is also an employee of the school district.

Other than the clear inside connection, the reasons for installing the tags are fuzzy. The superintendent cited attendance and security as benefits.

Sensors above classroom doors record all who enter, feeding the information to a central server. The transmitters enable the school to know who's a student and who isn't -- not that you need a computer to tell you who's an outsider in Sutter, population 3,000.

But as the Northern California Civil Liberties Union has pointed out, RFID carries security risks. Strangers with their own RFID readers may be able to identify and follow kids on the way home. If the lanyards include unencrypted personal information, the world can read it.

Schools have no business imposing tracking devices on kids, certainly not without openly weighing advantages against the loss of rights. Some parents in Sutter are incensed that the district required the transmitters without seeking their permission or engaging them in a discussion.

They realize that unless they protest loudly, other districts and companies will just assume that people think it's no big deal to have their movements monitored and privacy invaded.

They're standing up for everyone's rights by refusing to have the wool pulled over their eyes.

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