Friday, February 11, 2005

Resistance is futile
So far this week has had "give up and run away" written all over it. In the name of protecting us from brown foreigners who might want to commit some terroristic act like picking our fruit, Congress is well on the way toward creating a national ID system and exempting the Secretary of Homeland security from any laws or judicial oversight (I'm not exaggerating). With that lurking in the back of my mind, I looked over at Jeralyn Merritt's place this morning to find this:
The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will take away their children's privacy.

The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on Jan. 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory.

Where to start? It's dehumanizing. It's an invasion of privacy. It destroys autonomy at the age when it is most important to encourage it. It panders to the most fearful cowardice on one hand and the most authoritarian impulses on the other. Depending on a device like this reduces the personal bund between teacher and student. How is this going to play with the endtime crowd?

Did I leave anything out? Slippery slope? There is no slope here, it's a vertical plunge. The program is being justified as a way to simplify taking attendance, but since it tracks movement it will also be used to prevent and investigate vandalism. Plans are already afoot to connect the system to the library database and the cafeteria payment system. How long before it occurs to someone to connect it to the municipal bus system? How long before it occurs to someone to sell the system to malls and other businesses that often feel themselves to be at war with young people? Surely they have a right to know who enters their premises. With Congress already introducing national IDs for grown-ups, is it out of line to suspect that 24 hour electronic tracking of minors is just around the corner? And when we have raised a generation used to that kind of surveilance and control from above, what kind of adults will they make? What freedoms will they surrender in the name of security?

Is it really that bad or am I just paranoid? Not that the two are mutually exclusive. Let's back away from the future for a moment and just look at the present. How bad is this program?
The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Principal Earnie Graham hopes to eventually add bar codes to the existing ID's so that students can use them to pay for cafeteria meals and check out library books.


Graham, who also serves as the superintendent of the single-school district, told the parents that their children could be disciplined for boycotting the badges - and that he doesn't understand what all their angst is about.

It was started without parental knowledge and is being continued over their protests. Participation is compulsory for all students. Okay, that's pretty bad. But certainly principal/superintendent Graham is addressing the parents' concerns.
"You know what it comes down to? I believe junior high students want to be stylish. This is not stylish," he said.

I suppose open contempt could count as addressing their concerns.

My advice to parents is to get a couple of powerful bar magnets, bolt them together into the shape of a cross, and have their kids wear them around their necks at about the same height the cards hang (purely as an act of religious freedom, mind you). I wonder if the cards are washer and dryer safe. And if the student accidentally left the card out with a slice of bacon wrapped around it, they couldn't be held responsible for anything the dog did, could they?

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has much more information on this issue. Meanwhile, if anyone needs me, I'll be curled up in a fetal position under the stairs.

No comments: