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Uproar Over School's RFID Student Tracking

RFID hit the U.S. mainstream last week when media outlets across the country reported on the controversy surrounding a California elementary school's student tagging initiative.
Tags: Privacy
Feb 10, 2005This article was originally published by RFID Update.

February 10, 2005—RFID hit the U.S. mainstream in a big way last week when media outlets across the country reported on the controversy surrounding a California elementary school's student tagging initiative. Brittan Elementary of Sutter, California, implemented the InClass RFID system from local company Incom without adequately disclosing its details to parents -- namely, that student location would be tracked and recorded via the RFID tagged badge hanging from each child's neck. The school administration's goal is to more accurately track attendance, an important criterion used by the state of California to decide a school's funding. With RFID readers installed in classroom and bathroom doorways around the premises, the identifying information encoded on the RFID tag within each child's badge is read when the child passes into a room, thereby registering attendance.

It is precisely that attendance and location tracking that makes this case different from other student-tagging initiatives, like the one in Spring, Texas. There the goal is to protect children from kidnapping by reading their RFID badges only when getting on and off the school bus.

One wonders why Brittan Elementary wasn't more forthcoming with its intentions. Perhaps the administrators were so excited by the whiz-bang solution that they neglected to consider any possible downsides or user push-back. Sounds familiar. A number of consumer RFID projects were handled -- and reacted to -- in the same way, including one in which Gillette filmed a shelf of its RFID-tagged products. Innocuous enough, to be sure, but some vocal consumers reacted angrily because there wasn't signage indicating that the shelf was being watched.

The obvious lesson: communicate RFID initiatives before implementing them. The only way to quell the privacy concerns is to maintain an open dialogue with affected consumers.

Wired News has more details
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