A federal judge made a ruling this week that has a decidedly Orwellian touch to it.
US District Judge Orlando Garcia ruled on Tuesday that the San Antonio Northside School District can require that its students wear devices with RFID locator chips embedded in them while on school premises. The decision has raised privacy concerns among conservative and liberal privacy-rights groups.
The saga began when 15-year-old magnet school student Andrea Hernandez refused to wear the device while attending Jay High School. School officials expelled the sophomore for not complying with the rule that is required of all students on campus. The case ended up before Garcia who also refused to block the student's expulsion pending review by the courts.
The Rutherford Institute of Virginia represented the student in federal court. The institute said that the ruling was clearly in violation of the student’s privacy rights and it would appeal the decision.
"We don't want to see this kind of intrusive surveillance infrastructure gain inroads into our culture," ACLU senior policy analyst Jay Stanley said. "We should not be teaching our children to accept such an intrusive surveillance technology," said Stanley, according to Reuters.
The technology at the center of the controversy is known as RFID which stands for R-adio F-requency ID-entification. RFID can identify a product or individual by assigning a unique electronic identification that can be read by certain devices. The technology can then log information and is also capable of tracking an item or person by virtue of its ability to be detected by other devices that are designed to read their particular ID information. The chips can be as small as grain of rice and are implantable underneath the skin.
Many privacy advocate groups have expressed deep concerns that this technology could be easily used for more intrusive means. The Northside School District devices reportedly will not work away from school property, and the system is supposed to be invulnerable to outside monitoring.
According to district spokesman Pascual Gonzalez, it is not the district's intention to monitor the activities of students or spy on them.
"Northside is using the technology to locate students who are in the school building but not in the classroom when the morning bell rings," Gonzalez told Reuters.
Garcia gave Hernandez and her father Steven Hernandez until the start of the spring semester beginning this month to either comply with the school district policy or return to her home campus where RFID chips are not required.
This is a topic that is as hotly debated as gun control. Should school officials be allowed to force a student to submit to electronic tracking in order to remain at a school? The school Hernandez attends allows her to participate in a specialized curriculum and a transfer would likely deprive her of that specific type of instruction.
Is it fair to place those requirements on students to participate in these programs that are funded with taxpayer dollars if taxpayers are against it? I must point out that there was no mention on this, but several parents are opposed to it.
Many privacy advocates believe that Americans are slowly losing their right to privacy. Our information goes into all sorts of databases that build profiles on us and track our activities. We are photographed hundreds of times a day and recorded in various places as well. Could all that information one day end up being used against us?
Will these technologies prove to be beneficial or will they somehow end up being used for purposes that they were not intended. Will they end up like the Social Security card which was not supposed to be a form of identification but is now routinely used as such?
What these students have is not much different from the type of monitoring that some parolees and probationers have. Why is it necessary to actually track their whereabouts when the teachers take attendance? Also, how long will it be before all schools require this, and what will it all eventually lead to as far as our privacy is concerned?
Will this ultimately extend to the workplace as well? It is certainly not a big stretch of the imagination to see this popping up one day if it already isn't going on somewhere.