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Beyond Smart Cards and Guns in Schools

On January 8, 2013, a Judge from the United States District Court in Texas ruled against a high school sophomore’s refusal to wear a smart identity card embedded with a radio frequency chip which is part of the school’s smart ID card student locator project.

The Judgment show the Testimonies of Superintendent and the Principal in stating that the sensors do not give exact readings nor are they able to pinpoint the exact location of the students.

The plaintiff, a sophomore student, whose claim against the school was based on her religious conviction that wearing the smart card was a violation of her religious freedoms and a breach of her civil liberties and privacy rights. Whilst the Plaintiff has no issue with wearing normal identification cards that do not have tracking devices and no issues with surveillance cameras and her belief system propels her to reject the tracking device component of the ID.

In examining the reasons proffered by the school, its motivation is to ensure that student attendance is optimum as it impacts on State funding. The smart card allows access for the purchase of meals and other services. The Plaintiff had claimed that the smart card was the mark of the beast as foretold in the Bible which was why she could not accept this smart card.

The School had offered to remove the chip where she could wear the badge without the tracking device but the Plaintiff did not want any part of the badge. The Judge ruled that the Plaintiff failed to show a constitutional violation. The Defendant had pointed out that the Vatican uses smart cards as part of security to which the Plaintiff had retorted that her faith was not linked to the Vatican.

Religion aside, in examining the policy decisions for the use of smart cards in schools, one cannot help thinking about the recent school shootings in the United States. In 2008, it was reported that a Superintendent in Texas was pushing for teachers to be able to carry guns in school.

Michigan is also reported to be considering Guns in School Bill.

In the age of artificial intelligence, and where technology is always evolving faster than we can ever imagine, and in the era of biometrics, an individual’s information is stored in repositories shared over multiple databases. As technology continues to evolve, institutions will exercise their discretion on their adoption. This creates interesting considerations by Privacy Commissioners and Privacy Rights advocates.

I cannot help wondering if bank employees, medical employees, aviation staff all had tracking devices where their employers could know for certain where their employees were. If we take the rationale employed by the District Court Judge where the student is not free but is subject to rules. What happens when organizations start to create rules to force people who have a contractual relationship with them to start wearing tracking devices?

When a school wants to encourage attendance through enforcement and tracking students’ movements, it becomes obvious that this is from a place where “trust” has died. The ability to penetrate into systems to retrieve student information and track students exists. In light of the violence in schools, if someone knew what they were doing they could misuse the information to track students or carriers.

When a school and its teachers are able to create a culture and an environment that creates vision and inspires and empowers students, they will not need to be told to attend and you would certainly not need smart cards to bolster attendance too nor guns to defend against school violence.

A far deeper introspection is required and it goes beyond smart cards and guns. It is about the system! Otherwise there is no rhyme nor reason.

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