June 17, 2008
A Rhode Island school district has announced a pilot program to monitor student movements by means of radio frequency identification (RFID) chips implanted in their schoolbags.
The Middletown School District, in partnership with MAP Information Technology Corp., has launched a pilot program to implant RFID chips into the schoolbags of 80 children at the Aquidneck School. Each chip would be programmed with a student identification number, and would be read by an external device installed in one of two school buses. The buses would also be fitted with global positioning system (GPS) devices.
Parents or school officials could log onto a school web site to see whether and when specific children had entered or exited which bus, and to look up the bus’s current location as provided by the GPS device.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has criticized the plan as an invasion of children’s privacy and a potential risk to their safety."There’s absolutely no need to be tagging children," said Stephen Brown, executive director of the ACLU’s Rhode Island chapter. According to Brown, the school district should already know where its students are.
"[This program is] a solution in search of a problem," Brown said.
The school district says that its current plan is no different than other programs already in place for parents to monitor their children’s school experience. For example, parents can already check on their children’s attendance records and what they have for lunch, said district Superintendent Rosemary Kraeger.
Brown disputed this argument. The school is perfectly entitled to track its buses, he said, but "it’s a quantitative leap to monitor children themselves." He raised the question of whether unauthorized individuals could use easily available RFID readers to find out students’ private information and monitor their movements.
Because the pilot program is being provided to the school district at no cost, it did not require approval from the Rhode Island ethics commission.