Scary news from California's Contra Costa County — school officials there have reportedly decided to track some preschoolers with RFID chips, thanks to a federal grant supplying the funding.
According to a story from the Associated Press, the students will wear a jersey at school that has the RFID tag attached. The tag will track the children's movements and collect other data, like if the child has eaten or not. According to a Contra Costa County official, this is a cost-savings move, as teachers used to have to manually keep track of a child's attendance and meal schedule.
But of course, an RFID chip allows for far more than that minimal record-keeping. Instead, it provides the potential for nearly constant monitoring of a child's physical location. If readings are taken often enough, you could create an extraordinarily detailed portrait of a child's school day — one that's easy to imagine being misused, particularly as the chips substitute for direct adult monitoring and judgment. If RFID records show a child moving around a lot, could she be tagged as hyper-active? If he doesn't move around a lot, could he get a reputation for laziness? How long will this data and the conclusions rightly or wrongly drawn from it be stored in these children's school records? Can parents opt-out of this invasive tracking? How many other federal grants are underwriting programs like these?
These are questions that desperately need answers. California is in the middle of a terrible budget crunch, but the solution is not federally funded surveillance of children who are too young to understand the implications.