Two Big Issues

Whispers of Probing Mind points out that the Brittan School District may be the first in California to use RFID tags for children, but not in the US or around the world:

November 18, 2004: Suburban Houston school district is tagging 28,000 students with RFID-equipped ID badges that are read when children get on and off school buses. The children's’ locations are automatically sent wirelessly to police and school administrators. School officials say the $180,000 system was enthusiastically supported by parents as a school safety measure. We're guessing the kids haven't yet hired ACLU or EFF lawyers.

In Japan, Schoolkids were tagged with RFID chips in larger scale.

July 12 2004: The rights and wrongs of RFID-chipping human beings have been debated since the tracking tags reached the technological mainstream. Now, school authorities in the Japanese city of Osaka have decided the benefits outweigh the disadvantages and will now be chipping children in one primary school.

The tags will be read by readers installed in school gates and other key locations to track the kids’ movements. The chips will be put onto kids’ schoolbags, name tags or clothing in one Wakayama prefecture school. Denmark's Legoland introduced a similar scheme last month to stop young children going astray.

Again, from my point of view there are two issues here – consent (law 1) and omnidirectionality (law 4).

James Kobelius argues that by sending your child to a school you consent to the way that school is run, and that informing parents about use of RFID is basically a formality. This argument touches on the relationship between societies, individuals and their childrens’ schools – issues which are far beyond the scope of this blog. My point here is simply that one way or another, consent is required, or there will be a ruckus which undermines the success of the system. For the system to succeed, consent should be as clear as possible. In the California incident, a number of parents did not feel they had given their consent, so the consent was not clear. I am very curious to see whether the system will recover from this.

Given my interests, I generalize from this whole experience: When trying to build a successful system of identity for the Internet, let's all agree to make this kind of dynamic a thing of the past by ensuring that above all, the users of the system are in firm control of it.

In terms of omnidirectionality, I very much suspect that the children in the all these cases wear their tags home. And that the tags are omnidirectional, cabable of being energized by any compatible reader employed by any stranger. I believe we need to nip this in the bud. If children are to be tagged, the devices employed should refuse to respond except to readers run by parties known and approved by their parents. The identity of the party monitoring the children is at least as important as the identity of the children. We are capable of building such systems for use in protecting our children, and don't have to fall back to technologies suitable for boxes of cereal.

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Kim Cameron

Work on identity.