RFID tags coming to a campus near you
The BBC was at a tech fair in London this week, and reported on several company’s prototypes for systems which allow RFID tags to be tracked using WIFI. This scares me immensely. Even worse, of the suggested uses for this technology, campuses and schools are high on the agenda.
The idea has some emotional pull: how to ensure you really have got every child out of a burning school, for a start. However, this immediately makes me wonder why the Wifi network, along with all other computer equipment, was not turned off the moment the fire alarm started sounding (electrical faults are a common cause of fires in schools, along with arson).
However I’m mostly worried about 3 things to do with these proposals. First, many parents are ever more desperate to keep track of their children, to protect them from perceived dangers. Yes, some of those dangers are real, as the McCann case has proven, though the number of parents leaving children in the same situation has not been revealed, so we can’t tell just how small the percentage of children who go missing in this situation might be.
Many parents won’t even question this new technology: told that it will keep their much loved little ones safe, many will probably be quite welcoming of the technology. Thus many children will be forced to wear tagging devices without ever hearing of the debates surrounding the acceptability of the system. It will be a cool toy, or possibly a bit of an annoyance, but not something to worry about.
This leads to my second problem: targeting of Children leads to normalisation. Whereas adults would normally be wary of new technology, these children may never question such intrusion into their lives. As they get older, they won’t question why the police keep dropping by their school or college to pick up data CD’s with student movements that they want to corroborate against lists of events that they have their eye on.
At Bradford, we can be absolutely certain that Muslim student’ meetings would be high on the list for monitoring. Once the information exists, the police would want to get their hands on it; its only natural that once they know the information exists, they will want to go find it. If a rumour goes around that some radical ideas were raised in the meeting, the police will want to know who was there, so they can build up their profiles, pad out their files and step in to arrest anyone they thing might be in contact with this sort of discussion too often. Along with their library records, just in case there’s anything worth noting in there.
RFID cannot justify the risks it poses to our personal safety and security, no matter how emotive the news stories about lost children. Because if anyone has this information, the government will only have to ask for it, wearing an RFID device is simply a convenient method of allowing the government to monitor our movements. Which reminds me: I need a new Oyster card just so I don’t get too profiled by my current one’s usage.