Big Brother in Spring, TX

By on November 23, 2004

According to a New York Times article,The Spring (TX) Independent School District is trying a new program to help keep track of the 28,000 kids in the system, and hopefully track them down in case they get kidnapped. The system uses ID badges with RFID chips; readers on the buses and others at the schools’ entrances log when and where the kids get on and get off the bus, and when they arrive and leave the building, using cel phones to transmit that information back to the office. The system is monitored by the local cops and school administrators, and eventually parents will have access to the information about their own kids.

The system sounds like a good idea; keep track of the kids to make sure they get to school and back home safely. But once a system like this is in place, people will be bound to start exploring other things they can do with it, which makes the thing more complex and costly to administer. I think that it would also make the kids tend to be less adventurous. Doing stuff you’re not supposed to do and going places you’re not supposed to go is part of growing up; if a kid can be tracked by satellite (not yet, but it could happen) where is the adventure? And given the presence of certain systems already in place, the Big Brother possibilities are downright scary.

The Spring, TX, system, like other systems being used in other schools around the country, is prone to huge failures not because of inherent problems with the technology, but because it relies on the kids taking their badges with them, and keeping them. If the kids in Spring, TX, are anything like mine, they have to be reminded to take a coat along with them in the morning, so why would they be any better at remembering a little badge that doesn’t do anything for them? Then there are the class clowns who will inevitably swap cards with their buddies just to screw with the system. Lots of possibilities.

The trouble is, school administrators are aware of this built-in flaw, and are already talking about implanted RFID chips. That’s where it gets a bit scary. I carry a badge with me with an RFID chip in it for work; it’s part of the security system that lets people into the places they are allowed, and keeps the riff-raff out (or is supposed to anyway.) So I have nothing against using the technology, but don’t be talkinig about sticking something like that under my skin, or under my kids’ skin. That’s where I draw the line.



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