RFID Tagging Students Is All About The Money

from the chips-for-dough dept

Usually when I think of RFID chips, I tend to think of them being used for safety purposes. After all, my dog is chipped in case she decides to run off for greener pastures or tastier treats (DAMN IT, DOG, I GIVE YOU BACON ALL THE TIME!). But, despite safety often being the front man for using RFID technology, it often ends up being more about the money, such as when we previously wrote about Cleveland chipping citizens’ garbage and recycling cans because recycling was a financial benefit for the city.

So reading the Wired article covering a Texas school district’s decision to impliment RFID student cards, I wasn’t surprised to find that it looks like this is about cash rather than keeping students safe. Now, as you’d expect, proponents of the system, did trot out their “for the children” cannon and set it on full auto.

[District spokesman Pascual Gonzalez] said the chips, which are not encrypted and chronicle students only by a serial number, also assist school officials to pinpoint where kids are at any given time, which he says is good for safety reasons. “With this RFID, we know exactly where the kid is within the school,” he said noting students are required to wear the ID on a lanyard at all times on campus.

Unfortunately, as the article notes less vulgarly, that’s a big steamy pile of bullshit for two reasons. First, due to lack of encryption and the nature of the technology, any tech-savvy kid can fool the system.

The lack of encryption makes it not technically difficult to clone a card to impersonate a fellow student or to create a substitute card to play hooky, and makes the cards readable by anyone who wanted to install their own RFID reader, though all they would get is a serial number that’s correlated with the student’s ID number in a school database.

If you’re wondering, like I did, why they would allow such a gap in the system through which their safety-minded goals could be subverted, the likely answer is that they don’t care. Because this doesn’t appear to be about safety at all; it appears to be about federal funding based on attendance.

Like most state-financed schools, their budgets are tied to average daily attendance. If a student is not in his seat during morning roll call, the district doesn’t receive daily funding for that pupil, because the school has no way of knowing for sure if the student is there. But with the RFID tracking, students not at their desk but tracked on campus are counted as being in school that day, and the district receives its daily allotment for that student.

So, with the chip system, even if a student is not in class and is just wandering around campus, he’s counted as being in attendance and the school gets their funding. It’s essentially a high tech way to game the federal funding metrics. It doesn’t help keep students safe. It doesn’t help make sure the kids are actually in class or learning. It’s a money grab. And all this, despite the concerns of privacy advocates like the EFF and the ACLU, who signed on to a paper (pdf) blasting use of the chips, citing health concerns over electromagnetic radiation as well as the dehumanizing of children through constant surveillance.

A tip for school districts: if you’re going to use RFID chips as a way to get more federal funding while pretending it’s about student safety, pretend harder.

Filed Under: , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “RFID Tagging Students Is All About The Money”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile) says:

Frogs, meet heating water

The most chilling part about that article were the last two sentences:

Gonzalez said John Jay High has 200 surveillance cameras and Anson Jones Middle School, about 90.

?The kids,? he said, ?are used to being monitored.?

Oh. Then that’s fine. They’re used to being treated like inmates rather than students. I guess we’ll move along and allow the encroachment of surveillance and removal of rights, whether it’s in school, or the airport or on the internet …

DMNTD says:

money money money by the pound!

I say if it leaves makes the grunts at schools leave the kids alone then F em and let them have their money. What’s it all about anyway it seems.

I Agree, the fact that they are not honest about this is not surprising. I don’t see why they have to lie..WHO would care enough to change anything? Just leave the kids alone ffs. IMHO all you can hope for is thy grow up and unlearn ALL of this anyway. Good luck is all me, myself and I have to offer.

Zepy3 (profile) says:

That's educations dirty secret...

It’s never about the kids. If you think anything, this or the teachers strike or ANYTHING in American education today is “about the children” you are a gullible fool.

It’s all about the adults and it’s all about the unions and administrators and a system with a structure that is a complete failure. This form of funding is more of an example of this.

William C Bonner (profile) says:

How does the RFID work in the school?

In my RFID experience, tags have to be radiated with energy to report their ID, and you don’t want to have the kids just sitting and being cooked for 8 hours a day. So do the main doors function as portals, each room door have a portal?

I see this as a big boondoggle for the RFID manufacturer, or the installer. How different is this from the standard swipe card ID cards that are commonplace in businesses today?

kenichi tanaka says:

There’s a problem with this. These schools cannot force students or their parents to embed their children with these chips. This is taking things way too far because it’s a violation of an individual’s right to inject them with anything against their will.

I smell a lawsuit that will soon be filed against the school district thinking about implementing this process.

MrWilson says:

That's educations dirty secret...

To be fair, you didn’t go to every public school in the last 20 years, so you can’t say they didn’t have a different experience than you did if you went a public school in the last 20 years.

Yeah, there was absurdity in the public school I went to within the last 20 years, but it wasn’t a complete failure. Not all schools are at the level of issuing RFID tags to students. Mine just required us to tuck our shirts in and then didn’t enforce the rule for several years. They’re not all the same so they’re not all complete failures.

Anonymous Coward says:

Tim, why so angry?

I think there is plenty of reason why the RFIDs are a good idea, although they probably should be encrypted (an probably will be once the scamming starts). I think there is some legal liability at play here too.

Using the system, the schools can show the student is in attendance (or at least faking it), and for that matter can show where on the campus the student is located (which sensor they recently passed by). This would make it much easier to investigate any crime that might occur on campus, as an example.

It might also help the schools to compare in class attendance to “on campus” attendance to address kids who are coming to school but not going to class – and they could potentially spot locations where they are hiding out or going to pass the time they are not in class, maybe helping them to address the issue.

There are plenty of positives. Yes, getting paid is a good thing too, and having a system that allows them to do this more accurately and much more quickly, allowing more classroom time for teaching and less time for attendance taking seems like a win for everyone.

So again, I have to ask: Why so angry?

Katherine Albrecht, Ed.D. (user link) says:

Details on the NISD Tracking System

The NISD student ID cards are active, battery-powered RFID tracking beacons. They emit a constant signal with a 70-foot read range in all directions. The signals are continually monitored by reader devices installed “unobtrusively” in the school ceiling every 100 feet.

The tags have no off switch, so the kids continue to emit a 140-foot swath of RFID trackability even after they leave campus. That signal can be picked up by anyone with a bit of RF background who has an interest in tracking kids.

Please read more in our “Position Paper on the User of RFID in Schools” for more:

In freedom,

Katherine Albrecht, Ed.D.
RFID and Consumer Privacy Expert, Nationally Syndicated Radio Host, and Bestselling Author

abc gum says:

That's educations dirty secret...

“They’re not all the same so they’re not all complete failures.”

Yes, this is the point. Many students graduate with a good education, some can even afford to go on to higher learning. If it were a complete failure this would not be the case.

Those who espouse the claim that the public school system is a complete failure are probably also pushing their own brand of solution the the problem. In many cases, the details of their solution is troubling.

abc gum says:


Why waste money?

Using pen and paper, attendance can be taken. One would think that the many video cameras already in place would serve investigative activities better than a simple rfid.

It might help administration if they did not cut the staff to bare bone numbers, thus providing for the ability to spot students ditching class. Oh and they might even have time to actually look at the video being recorded.

There are many positives to keeping staff rather than trading them in for cheap and less effective replacements.

So again, why waste money?

Also, I assume you have a vested interest in this – amirite?

phlynhi (profile) says:


I do have concerns about the tags not being encrypted, and I would prefer a 2nd level of of anonymity in the ID transmission (requiring 2 separate data-sets to link the RFID serial to a real person), and think this should be addressed.
We’re in a fast changing age, and need to be vigilant in guarding our privacy, but need also to to avoid becoming Luddites with a knee-jerk reaction of fear and resentment as technology develops. RFID in your ID is a reality that is here (see TWIC cards for example) and will continue to grow. Limiting the range of these school IDs to school property is appropriate; in your ID is appropriate. Placed under your skin at birth (or, perhaps after an arrest/conviction) perhaps crosses the line ;-).
The reality is that anyone with a cell phone can (not should, but can) be tracked already. Notably, my read on the justification for the RFID in this case seems refreshingly honest: we want to make sure we get all the funding that we’re due from the state. They could have easily trotted out “it’s for the CHILDREN,” “BUT, SCHOOL SHOOTINGS!” or the catch-all “TERRORISM,” but they didn’t. I have to conclude that these RFID embedded school IDS, while not perfect execution, is theoretically sound and defensible.

abc gum says:

That's educations dirty secret...

” teachers are often the most reviled professionals outside of the legal business”

I was unaware of this.
One would think many other groups would garner the attention of the haters before teachers. For example, the school administrators certainly would be higher up on this list than teachers – right?

Seriously – I can think of many so called professionals which deserve a higher ranking on the DB list than teachers.

abc gum says:


The concern is real, the proposed solution is flawed in many ways.

Only a dumb criminal would not look for and remove the implanted device. It would be very easy to find, removal by the non medically trained could lead to complications. Possibly a wrist watch w/ embedded device would be less intrusive upon removal and possibly overlooked by the aforementioned dumb criminal.

In addition there are numerous studies on the adverse affects caused by implants. This is not hyperbole, so some research.

xyz goo says:


Not to mention machines aren’t as infallible as people seem to think they are. My wife recently had to go a full week without pain medication because the computer system, which is mostly automated, stated it wasn’t yet time for her refill. Thankfully she tends not to throw out the empty bottles, which proved the computer was wrong and that she’s not a drug seeker.

Anonymous Coward says:

Next headline:
Student makes millions carrying RFID cards for buddies
Caught carrying 50 cards. Charges $1 per day per card. Student: “This was a light day. Usually I have at least 100.”
Officials: “This is terrible. Just terrible. (Now we have to return all that federal money from faked attendance and are out the cost of the system. Maybe we’ll just keep quiet so we don’t lose all that money–for the children.)”

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop ยป

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...